Video released; passenger wants seat belts on commuter buses | SteamboatToday.com

Video released; passenger wants seat belts on commuter buses

Passenger involved in March 29 accident calls for seat belts on buses

Four passengers and the bus driver were treated for injuries after the March 29 head-on crash with a Ford Explorer.

— In the wake of a March 29 crash between a passenger vehicle and a Steamboat Springs Transit bus, a video from inside the bus shows how violent the crash was, and at least one bus rider said she will not feel safe again until the city installs seat belts on its buses.

Following a records request by Steamboat Today, the city released one of the four videos that captured scenes from the crash. Citing privacy concerns, the city did not release two videos showing the passenger areas. The view on another video is obstructed by snow.

"I'm sure glad I don't have to drive in this tomorrow," bus driver Joy Bachem can be heard saying moments before a Ford Explorer drifted into her lane and struck the bus head-on.

The intense snowstorm that evening left the roads in a treacherous condition. The 29-year-old driver of the Explorer, Harrison Ziskind, sustained serious injuries in the crash and ultimately was cited for having unsafe tires and for careless driving causing injury.

Four of the eight bus passengers, along with the driver, also were treated for injuries at Yampa Valley Medical Center.

According to the video, the bus was going 40 mph when it collided with the Explorer. Bachem can be heard gasping and is seen grabbing the wheel to brace for impact. She is thrown to the side as a metal panel falls on her head.

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Bachem was wearing a seatbelt, but the bus that carries workers between Craig and Steamboat along U.S. Highway 40 was not equipped with passenger seat belts.

Craig resident Tracy Sheldon was sitting in the second row, and a man was sitting in front of her. He can be seen being thrown into the front of the bus and hitting his head as the bus instantly loses about 20 mph in speed. The man was hospitalized overnight.

"It looked like he had a golf ball planted in the middle of his forehead," Sheldon said. "He had blood coming down from each eye."

Sheldon said one passenger had a broken nose. Others sustained facial injuries.

Sheldon was sitting next to the window and said she went airborne before landing in the aisle on her stomach.

Sheldon suffered rib injuries and said it could be several weeks before she knows the full extent of her injuries. She recently received a hospital bill for about $3,500 and does not know who is going to pay it.

The crash left everyone traumatized, Sheldon said, but they were glad no one was killed.

"I told my husband, 'I don't feel safe,'" Sheldon said. "I won't feel safe again unless there are seat belts."

So, Sheldon's husband went to the hardware store and found a strap that is intended for securing luggage. Now, four days per week when she buses to Steamboat to work as a finance director for a nonprofit, she straps herself in with her jerry-rigged seat belt.

"I know at least I'm not going to go airborne or sustain the injuries that I did in the bus accident," Sheldon said.

Sheldon said she was told the man whose face was slammed into the front of the bus recently started riding the bus again. Now, he sits in the back row.

The debate on outfitting large charter buses and school buses with seat belts has been going on for years.

Steamboat Transit manager Jonathan Flint would not say whether the city has looked into installing seat belts on the commuter buses or what doing so might cost.

"Because this subject involves questions about an ongoing accident investigation and review, I cannot offer comment," Flint said in an email. "Our buses meet all safety requirements and standards."

In 2014, there were 27,796 passengers on Steamboat's commuter buses, and ridership increased 12 percent in 2015.

On average, 21 motorcoach and large bus occupants are killed and 7,934 are injured annually in motor vehicle crashes, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data. Requiring seat belts could reduce fatalities by as much as 44 percent and reduce the number of moderate to severe injuries by as much as 45 percent.

In 2013, the U.S. Department of Transportation enacted a new rule that affects charter buses and commuter buses, such as those operated by the city. Beginning November of this year, all new buses will have to be equipped with seat belts.

Department of Transportation spokesman José Alberto Uclés said the department will continue encouraging the industry to speed the adoption of lap and shoulder seat belts before the mandatory deadline.

"While travel on motorcoaches/buses is overall a safe form of transportation, when accidents do occur, there is the potential for a greater number of deaths and serious injuries due to the number of occupants and high speeds at which the vehicles are traveling," Alberto Uclés said. "Adding seat belts to motorcoaches increases safety for all passengers and drivers, especially in the event of a rollover crash."

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247, email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @SBTStensland