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Driver in fatal bus-train crash pleads guilty

February 7, 2014 News Extra

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The man who drove a passenger-filled bus into the path of a freight train avoided a trial and potential jail time Friday by entering a plea agreement.

Two senior citizens died and other people — seniors and adults with special needs — were hurt when the train hit the Butler Area Rural Transit bus broadside at Evans City’s Maple Avenue crossing.

The plea entered by 60-year-old Frank Schaffner of Butler reflects each of those victims: He pleaded guilty to two counts of involuntary manslaughter, representing each of the fatalities; and eight counts of reckless endangerment, one for each injured person. All of the charges are misdemeanors.

Butler County Judge William Shaffer will determine his sentence on March 13. But as part of the agreement, prosecutors have recommend no prison time.

Instead, the judge will fashion a sentence in the Intermediate Punishment Program that could include a maximum of 10 years of supervision with some of that time on house arrest.

“This plea reflects his role in this accident,” defense attorney Mike Pawk said afterward. “He wanted to accept responsibility for his role in this tragedy, get it behind the families and behind him so people can move forward.”

According to court records, at about 8 a.m. April 26, Schaffner, who was wearing dark sun glasses, drove the bus across the tracks once without slowing or stopping to pick up a passenger.

Then returning over the tracks for a second time, court records state: “It’s obvious that passengers hear and see an oncoming train. Schaffner makes no attempt to slow or stop before crossing over the railroad, nor does he look left or right. Passengers are attempting to advise Schaffner a train is coming.”

The train, an Allegheny Valley Railroad train with two locomotives and 29 cars, hit the bus broadside.

Passenger Claudette Miller, 92, of Callery, died of injuries that afternoon. Another passenger, John D. Burkett, 88, of Zelienople, died later of injuries.

Officials have said toxicology tests on Schaffner proved he had no drugs or alcohol in his system at the time of the crash.

County district Attorney Richard Goldinger declined to comment about the plea agreement. However, he said, “All the (victims and relatives) were involved in the process and notified as to how we would proceed.”

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