Neither defendant nor victims escaped tears Thursday when a former bus driver was sentenced for driving a bus filled with seniors and adults with special needs into the path of a freight train.
“I made a mistake,” said defendant Frank Schaffner, who called the passengers — two of whom were killed — his “close dear friends for 2 1/2 years.”
Schaffner, 60, of Butler 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 sentenced Schaffner to spend a year on house arrest with electronic monitoring followed by another four years under the supervision of the county’s Intermediate Punishment Program.
When that expires, he could spend up to another 11 years on probation. He also must serve 400 hours of community service because, the judge said, “the only way you can begin to make amends is to give back to the community.”
Schaffner apologized to the courtroom of a dozen family members of those who were killed or injured. Many of the families were accompanied by civil attorneys.
According to court records, Schaffner on April 26 maneuvered a Butler Area Rural Transit bus across train tracks at Evans City’s Maple Avenue crossing 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.