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May 14, 2014 at 1:34 PM

Sound Transit driver could face charges in fatal 2013 crash

The Washington State Patrol is asking the King County Prosecutor’s Office to file charges against the Sound Transit bus driver who failed to stop for a red light and triggered a May 6, 2013 collision that killed two people in Kirkland.

Specifically, the prosecutor is being asked to consider filing two counts of vehicular homicide and one count of hit and run against driver Aleksandr Rukhlin, the State Patrol said today.

The Route 535 bus to Lynnwood was traveling northbound and uphill, at a left-side exit to the Totem Lake Transit Center in Kirkland, where witnesses say it ran a red light and hit a Ford Escape. After impact, the bus continued on a downhill ramp a half-mile toward northbound Interstate 405.

Robert and Elizabeth Rotta of Bellevue, who had been married 54 years, died in the Escape, which was being driven by their son.

Prosecutors received a report last week from the State Patrol, and are still reviewing potential charges, said Dan Donohoe, spokesman for the prosecutor’s office.  A decision might still be a couple weeks away, he said.

According to state law, a driver doesn’t have to be impaired, or even reckless, to be charged with vehicular homicide, but merely drive “with disregard for the safety of others” in a fatal crash. Troopers haven’t stated a theory yet about why Rukhlin drove past a red light.

Rukhlin , 54, of Everett, cooperated with investigators and passed toxicology tests, the State Patrol said after the crash. The roadway and signals were in good condition.

The State Patrol’s Major Accident Investigation Team (MAIT) investigation revealed Rukhlin slowed from the highway speed of 60 mph to approximately 45 mph as the bus exited the highway. Rukhlin did not noticeably slow down as he traveled up the exit ramp before entering the intersection and striking the SUV at approximately 45 mph, the State Patrol said.

Passengers on the bus reported yelling at the driver to stop the bus, but Rukhlin continued through the collision and back onto northbound I-405. The bus travelled nearly three-quarters of a mile before passengers were able to intervene and assist in getting the bus stopped, according to the State Patrol.

Rukhlin recalled in a phone interview with The Times a month after the crash: “I just pushed on the pedal. There was nothing, I couldn’t stop the bus. The air pressure was fine — I don’t know why it didn’t work.” After impact, Rukhlin said, “I was confused … I slowed down the gear, and it couldn’t stop the bus.”

A few days after the crash, Sound Transit released a routine inspection report from about a week earlier, saying there was a complaint the bus pulled to the right while braking. A mechanic found no pulling, and the brake pads were a quarter-inch thick, beyond the minimum standard. The bus, a 2008 Gillig Phantom, had 298,072 miles on it. The model is rated to last 12 years or 500,000 miles.  A post-crash investigation found the brakes worked properly, according to Sound Transit spokesman Bruce Gray.

The bus shows green-and-blue Sound Transit colors but is operated under contract by Community Transit, which subcontracts with the company First Transit for operations and maintenance. This was the first fatality since ST Express service began in 1999.


Comments | More in The Blotter, Traffic & Transit | Topics: accident, Sound Transit, Washington State Patrol


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