Muni crash driver was warned

The transit operator who rammed into a historic streetcar Monday evening had been admonished an hour before the crash for tailgating another tram, a top Muni official said Tuesday.

Ken McDonald, the chief operating officer for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, told the SFMTA Board of Directors on Tuesday that he, Mayor Gavin Newsom and Muni Chief of Staff Debra Johnson had been giving Mississippi Congressman Bennie Thompson a Muni station tour Monday evening before the accident.

When they emerged from Van Ness station onto Market Street at 5:15 p.m., McDonald said, he saw something that disturbed him — an F-Line driver, identified by Muni officials as Jeanette Molex, was following another streetcar at less than a car’s length. The recommended distance between streetcars is 250 feet, he said.

McDonald said he whipped out his cell phone and reported the incident to Muni’s central control, demanding Molex be warned while he remained on the line.

“In a twist of irony,” Molex was at the controls of the streetcar that caused the 6:30 p.m. rear-end crash at The Embarcadero and Washington Street that injured 14 people, McDonald told MTA board members Tuesday.

Six people, including Molex and the other driver, were sent to the hospital. None of the injuries are considered to be life-threatening.

“She failed to stop and rammed into the back of the streetcar,” McDonald said.

Molex appeared to have switched streetcars after she was warned, he said.

SFTMA board member Malcolm Heineke said the fact that the operator appeared to ignore the warning was worrisome. He said there has to be a better system in place.

“You called it an ironic twist,” he told McDonald. “It might be safe to call it a concerning twist.”

McDonald told the board that memos from CEO Nathaniel Ford were distributed to all operators Tuesday.

Transit Workers Local 250-A President Irwin Lum said the operators’ union would continue to work with Muni management to provide retraining to all drivers, including education on keeping a safe distance between trams.

Molex has been placed on nondriving status and is receiving her full salary, Muni spokesman Judson True said. She has been employed by SFMTA since November 2004 and has been with the rail division since last year.

In general, it can take up to four months to fire a Muni driver due to the appeals processes spelled out in their union contracts, True said.

tbarak@sfexaminer.com

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