EVANS CITY — Video captured by a camera mounted in the windshield of a bus that drove into the path of a freight train April 26 reportedly shows a tense moment just before the crash — the train’s horn sounding as alarmed passengers are trying to alert the driver to move or bracing for the crash.
Two senior citizens died and nine other people — seniors and adults with special needs — were hurt when the train struck the Butler Area Rural Transit bus broadside at Evans City’s Maple Avenue crossing.
In the opinion of Butler County District Attorney Richard Goldinger, it’s the video that tips the scales of the circumstances of the collision from an accident to a crime.
“That video left me no choice but to file charges against the bus driver,” Goldinger said. “It clearly shows he did not stop at the crossing.”
Bus driver Frank Schaffner, 59, of Butler on Thursday was charged with two counts each of homicide by vehicle and involuntary manslaughter.
Schaffner’s attorney, Mike Pawk of Butler, said he stands by his belief that this was an accident and many details of the collision are yet to be explored, including the weather, speed of the train and conduct of the conductor.
“This is the very beginning of this investigation,” Pawk said
Schaffner told a police officer at the crash that it had been foggy and one of the passengers on the bus yelled to him, then “he looked out the window and noticed the train and floored it.”
Pawk, who acknowledges that he has not seen the video, pointed out that his client’s toxicology tests came back Thursday and were negative for drugs or alcohol.
Goldinger verified that Schaffner’s toxicology tests were clean, but he said the evidence from the video is persuasive: “He violated the law.”
Goldinger said the video demonstrates that the fog, described as “light” in the criminal affidavit, was not a factor.
“He had a clear view of the crossing well before reaching it,” Goldinger said.
According to the narrative in the criminal affidavit at about 8 a.m. that day Schaffner, who was wearing dark sun glasses, drives the bus across the tracks once without slowing or stopping to pick up a 10th passenger.
Then, returning over the tracks for a second time, the narrative states: “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.
“On the video you can hear the horns from the train rapidly approaching. Some passengers visibly start to prepare for impact.
“Schaffner begins to look to his left as the train begins side impact to all passengers behind him. The horns on the train are sounding as the train impacts the bus.”
The affidavit later states, “As the bus comes to a rest, Schaffner says, ‘Oh my god. There’s no (expletive) railroad crossing there! Are you guys all right?’”
Schaffner reportedly leaves the bus, then gets back on and says, “Jesus Christ! Oh God, is there anybody hurt?’” he said. “There’s no (expletive, expletive) warning light.”
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 of injuries on Saturday.
An 82-year-old Cranberry Township man remains hospitalized in Pittsburgh with life-threatening injuries, investigators said.
Schaffner and the other passengers were treated at hospitals for less serious injuries.
In addition to the charges relating to the people who died, Schaffner is charged with failing to stop at a railroad and 10 counts of aggravated assault by vehicle, reckless endangerment, reckless driving and one count of failing to stop at a railroad crossing.
A preliminary hearing for Schaffner is set for Tuesday before District Judge Wayne Seibel.
Schaffner is free, having posted a $15,000 unsecured bond.