Muni bus runs over woman's arm, drives away

A Muni bus operator rolled over the arm of a San Francisco bicyclist last week, only to then drive away without stopping.

Click on the photo at right to see more on this story.

Police are investigating the incident and inspecting video captured by a security camera at a nearby strip club.

Nob Hill resident Laila Brenner was cycling home from work on Sept. 14 when she changed lanes to avoid a double-parked car and subsequently tangled with a bus near the intersection of Columbus Avenue and Broadway in North Beach, all parties agree.

Brenner’s bike crashed to the ground, and the back right tire of the bus rolled over and crushed her arm, her attorney Doug Saeltzer said. While Brenner lay injured, the 8X-Bayshore Express then sped off.

Muni spokesman Paul Rose said his agency has reviewed the footage captured by cameras at the Roaring 20s club. He said it is unclear whether Brenner crashed due to the actions of the bus, or because of the illegally parked vehicle.

But Saeltzer quarreled with the agency’s findings, saying the bus was “way too close” to Brenner.

“We just can’t understand how an operator can literally run over somebody and not stop to check it out,” said Saeltzer, who is planning to file an injury claim with The City. “A professional driver should know if they hit someone.”

Police investigators also are seeking to determine why the operator did not stop, spokesman Sgt. Michael Andraychak said. Police also are investigating whether Brenner changed lanes illegally before the crash, he said.

Rose said Muni has labeled the accident “nonpreventable,” saying the driver may not have known of the incident because the contact was with the second half of his articulated bus, which has separate suspension from the cab housing the driver. The bus operator, who has been with the agency since 1997, is currently on nondriving status, but is expected to return to duty soon, Rose said.

Executive Director Leah Shahum of the San Francisco Bike Coalition said there have been far too many Muni-related bike accidents, and that the agency needs to do a better job of training its operators to deal with cyclists.

“It’s very concerning that an operator would leave the scene of an accident like that,” said Shahum. “We haven’t seen much improvement in the way of operators in a long time.”

The accident occurred less than a month after a Muni bus fatally struck 23-year-old Emily Dunn as she was crossing a sidewalk in the Castro. Dunn’s family has indicated it will file a claim with the agency, and the settlement is likely to be costly.

Earlier this year, Muni approved a $5.4 million settlement with a cyclist who was severely injured after being struck by a bus. Since the 2006 fiscal year, the agency has doled out $91.9 million in injury claims and settlements.

Brenner, 30, was transferred to a local hospital, but her arm was so swollen that doctors had to wait days before fixing her multiple fractures, Saeltzer said.

She was too heavily medicated to be interviewed on Wednesday. Saeltzer said she will return to the hospital on Friday for more surgery on her elbow and hand.


Accident fund is $22M chunk of SFMTA budget

Every year, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency sets aside about $22 million to $23 million to pay for injury claims and settlements expected to arise from its daily operations.

Unlike some transit agencies, Muni’s operator does not have insurance to cover everyday vehicle accidents.

Instead, the agency doles out the cash from its operating budget, as part of a “self-insured” operation.

The agency does have  insurance for catastrophic accidents, which costs it $2.5 million annually. That insurance only covers incidents in which the payout is between $5 million and $25 million.

Over the past five years and two months, Muni has spent nearly $92 million on claims and settlements. To put that into context, the agency currently faces a $23 million shortfall. The cost of this line item in last year’s budget represented 3 percent of the SFMTA’s $775 million budget.

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