The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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January 23, 2014

DA: No charges in bus crash

INDIANA — Criminal charges won’t be filed in a bus crash that claimed two lives last fall, Indiana County’s district attorney said Wednesday.

While the Nanty Glo man behind the wheel of the small SeniorLIFE bus caused the crash by running a red light, there was no sign of further recklessness to warrant criminal action – and it’s likely the driver never saw the red light, Indiana County District Attorney Patrick Dougherty said.

“When we look at criminal charges in cases like this one, such as assault or homicide by vehicle, we have to prove there was gross negligence by the actor – a higher-than-ordinary amount of negligence,”  Dougherty said, citing speeding or driving impaired by drugs or alcohol as typical examples. “That wasn’t the case here.”

Police said the Sept. 4 accident occurred in White Township on Ben Franklin Road’s Shelly Drive intersection. The bus, driven by Michael Smith, 20, of Nanty Glo, struck a sedan crossing its path under a green light, Dougherty said.

The impact ejected one passenger, Sandra Livingston, 70, of Homer City, causing blunt force trauma that claimed her life in a Pittsburgh hospital less than three hours later, the Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s Office said at the time.

A 79-year-old Shelocta, Indiana County, woman also died two weeks later of injuries sustained in the crash. Indiana County Chief Deputy Coroner Jeffrey Overman said the woman, Cathryn Reeger, was a passenger on the bus and that she died at home Sept. 20.

The car’s driver, Frank Fazio Jr., 77, was also among those injured but was able to escape major injury, police said at the time.

A state police accident reconstruction team spent months investigating the crash, examining both vehicles involved and crash scene evidence among other information to determine what happened on the road, Dougherty said.

Neither the SeniorLIFE bus nor the sedan it struck had mechanical issues that would have been factors in the accident, Dougherty added.

“(Smith) just didn’t see the light,” Dougherty said. “It appears (Smith) didn’t apply the brakes until he hit the car.”

Attempts to reach a SeniorLIFE spokesman for comment were unsuccessful Wednesday and Thursday.

Summary vehicle code citations – traffic tickets – were filed this month against Smith for careless driving and failure to obey traffic control devices, online court records show.

David Hurst is a reporter with The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him at www.twitter.com/tddavidhurst.

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