EVANS CITY — While investigators continue to study Friday’s wreck of a small bus and train at the Maple Avenue crossing, borough residents wonder how this could have happened.
“They just don’t understand why the bus stopped in the middle of the tracks,” Mayor Dean Zinkhann said.
“Everybody keeps asking, ‘Why?’”
The bus was a Butler Area Rural Transit vehicle that was transporting senior citizens and mentally impaired individuals. It was hit by the train about 8 a.m. Friday.
The crash left 10 passengers and the driver injured in the crumpled bus that was tossed into a ravine near the tracks.
One of the passengers, Claudette Miller, 91, of Callery, later died at Allegheny General Hospital.
Dana Beers of Callery, Miller’s niece, was at the Crestview Community Presbyterian Church in Callery Monday morning preparing for that night’s memorial service for her aunt.
“My aunt was delightful,” said Beers. “She was very active in the community until she became elderly.”
Miller was Callery’s election judge for many years, Beers said, and worked at the local grocery store, the post office and taught Sunday school.
“If the students in her class learned the books of the Bible she bought them one,” Beers said. “She was known for that.”
Miller had been living with her granddaughter Claudia Brueckman, Beers said.
“She helped out a lot of people. She had a good sense of humor and she still went to church. She was out shopping with Claudia the day before the accident,” she said.
Miller went to Lifesteps several times a week depending on her health, Beers said.
Cheryl Klabnik, a pharmacy technician at Evans City Pharmacy, said that Miller was a regular at the store, often coming with her granddaughter. She said that Miller was well known in the borough.
“(She was a) really sweet lady,” Klabnik said. “Everybody in the community knew her.”
Mike Robb executive director of the Alliance for Nonprofit Resources, which operates the BART program, spoke to bus driver Frank Schaffner Friday after he was released from the hospital.
“We wanted to make sure he was OK,” Robb said.
According to Robb, Schaffner maintains he stopped the bus before crossing the tracks and did not know the train was coming.
“He did not hear a train,” Robb said.
He said Friday wasn’t the first time Schaffner drove that route.
“He’s been on that road many times,” Robb said.
Robb also said Monday that Schaffner’s driving record was checked with the state Department of Transportation in February 2011, when he was hired, and again in November 2012, but no violations were found.
“We don’t have that here,” he said about any records of violations.
Robb said the record checks were supposed to cover the last 10 years up to each date.
A check of court records shows that Schaffner, then a resident of Wampum in Beaver County, pleaded guilty to recklessly endangering another person in August 2002.
He was sentenced to one year’s probation and court costs.
And in March 2012, he was found guilty in Butler County of driving an unregistered vehicle.
As far as having a signal at the Maple Avenue crossing, Zinkhann said he is unsure just whose responsibility it is.
“I don’t know what that depends on,” Zinkhann said.
However, borough solicitor Mike Gallagher this morning said the responsibility rests with the state Public Utility Commission.
The Maple Avenue crossing has a sign indicating there is a railroad crossing, but there is no warning light or gate to block traffic as a train passes through the crossing.
The crossing is the only access that residents of the small neighborhood have to Mars-Evans City Road.
Julie Smith, who has lived in the borough since 1995, said she was driving near the tracks when the crash occurred. Prior to that morning, she had never heard trains that run on that track sound their horns.
“That was the most earth-shattering train horn I’ve ever heard,” Smith said.
Eagle staff writers John Bojarski, Sandy Pontius, Paula Grubbs and Tom Victoria contributed to this report.