Lawyer: Driver helpless to stop runaway San Francisco bus

Injured people are tended to by paramedics near Union Square on Friday. A double-decker tour bus crashed into multiple vehicles and pedestrians. (AP Photo/Josh Edelson)

A lawyer representing the driver of the double-decker tourist bus that careened out-of-control through downtown San Francisco recounted a harrowing tale Tuesday of a “catastrophic” mechanical failure that left 20 people injured but — miraculously, authorities say — no one dead.

San Francisco lawyer Robert Cartwright said he has been hired to represent bus driver Kenneth Malvar, 52, who was behind the wheel of a tour bus that crashed Friday afternoon in San Francisco’s popular Union Square shopping district.

Cartwright said Malvar gave a brief account from his hospital bed Tuesday.

Cartwright said Malvar was driving through an intersection when he heard an explosion underneath the bus. After the explosion, the bus began to pick up speed and race downhill toward the congested Union Square. Malvar said the brake pedals didn’t work and the accelerator pedal felt “floppy.” Malvar said the emergency brake didn’t slow the bus and he was unable to get the vehicle out of drive or even turn off the engine as it careened toward pedestrians. The bus ran over a bicyclist and injured five seriously, including Malvar. Cartwright said Malvar is expected to recover from injuries, which include broken ribs and an ankle

“It was extremely harrowing, but he kept his wits about him,” Cartwright said. Cartwright said Malvar tried to slow the bus by clipping parked cars and large construction containers filled with water serving as buffers to no avail. That’s when he decided to drive the bus into scaffolding at a construction site that will soon turn into an Apple retail store.

“He tried everything,” Cartwright said. “He was powerless to stop the bus.”

San Francisco Police Sgt. Michael Andraychak said Tuesday the accident is still under investigation. The bus is owned by the company City Sightseeing and Cartwright said Malvar has worked for the tour group without incident since 2005.

Christian Watts, the chief executive of City Sightseeing, didn’t return calls Tuesday. On Monday, Watts said that company mechanics last inspected the bus on Oct. 25.

The California Public Utilities Commission said Monday that the bus o appears not to have been registered with the agency as required. The CPUC maintains a list of all tour vehicles that carry more than 11 passengers in California. The CPUC said all vehicles registered with it must pass California Highway Patrol inspections.

CPUC spokeswoman Constance Gordon said “our preliminary information on the accident is that the license plate of the bus involved in Friday’s crash does not appear to match the vehicle the CPUC has on file, nor did City Sightseeing officially notify the CPUC that it added the bus that was involved in the crash to its operations, which it is required to do.”

Neither Watts nor the company responded to inquiries Monday or Tuesday about the CPUC’s claims.

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