SF cable car operator injured in June crash dies

A cable car operator, Reynaldo Abraham “Avy” Morante, died this morning, according to the local Muni operators union.

While his family has not yet released the cause of death, Morante, 50, was in a coma after he was struck by a suspected drunken motorcyclist in June last year. Transport Workers Union 250-A and a former Muni operator close to the family told the Examiner he died due to his injuries.

Morante was on life support at Laguna Honda Hospital and Rehabilitation Center.

Motorcyclist William Kanta Makepeace, 22, was arrested on June 11, 2015 near the corner of Taylor and Francisco streets after hitting Morante. Cable car operators told the Examiner that Morante had stepped off his cable car to smoke a cigarette when he was struck by Makepeace’s motorcycle.

Makepeace was charged with two felony counts of driving under the influence of alcohol causing injury.

Morante suffered a fractured skull and traumatic brain injuries, and had a portion of his skull removed to relieve the pressure, according to the District Attorney’s Office, last year.

Makepeace is out on bail, according to the DA’s office.

When asked if Makepeace’s charges would increase in the wake of Morante’s death, Max Szabo, a spokesman for the DA’s office, said “we are in the process of evaluating what additional charges may be appropriate in the wake of the victim’s death. Our thoughts are with the family.”

A Muni operator for more than 20 years, Morante became a cable car operator in 2014. His brother, Alan Morante, said he wanted to be “part of the legend” of cable cars.

Rey Morante is survived by two adult children, Josephine and Andrew, and his brother, Alan.

Rey Morante and his children. Photo Courtesy of Morante family
Rey Morante and his children. Photo Courtesy of Morante family

“He was a humble man, a happy-go-lucky guy,” said Resool Pittman, a cable car gripman who knew Morante. Cable car operators and one supervisor the Examiner spoke to said they would miss him.

Eric Williams, president of Muni’s operator union, said “He’s our brother, Rey.”

John Haley, SFMTA Director of Transit, said “The SFMTA offers its deepest thoughts and condolences to the family and friends of Reynaldo Morante.”

Irwin Lum, the past president of the union, seemed shaken by the news.

“He loved his job. It’s a sad situation when someone goes to work, and doesn’t come home,” he said. “Muni operators are as essential as fire fighters, and the police.”

Morante’s service is tentatively scheduled for Saturday, at Grace Cathedral, Lum said.

In the wake of the motorcycle incident which injured Morante and a separate incident which severely injured another cable car operator, Santiago Montoya, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency announced cable car safety reforms.

As the Examiner reported last year, the new safety measures all stem from a California vehicle code 21756, which directs autos to stop behind a stopped streetcar (including cable cars). Each of the cable car operator injuries were caused by vehicles which violated this code, the agency said.

The SFMTA announced a new sign to be mounted on cable cars reading “Do Not Pass Cable Car.”

The SFMTA also pledged to launch a public awareness campaign, and will develop what they call a “cable car collision reduction program” to identify new safety measures.

Of those efforts, Haley said, “We will continue our work to make our streets as safe as possible for the general public and for our own employees who often work under difficult situations.”

The SFPD Chief Greg Suhr promised to boost ticketing of vehicle code violators, which is a fine of $238.

Cmdr. Ann Mannix, head of SFPD’s Traffic Company, said she could not provide statistics yet, but may be able to provide numbers soon.

“We have increased enforcement both from the district station, Central (station), and the traffic company,” Mannix wrote in an email, “Additionally, both the SFPD and officials with MTA have met with the operators to review safety precautions.”

Speaking on background for fear of reprisal, some cable car operators said SFPD did increase traffic enforcement near cable cars – for about two weeks.

Then, these operators said, they were left on their own.

More details will be posted on this breaking report as they become available.

Bay City News contributed to this story.

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