A Deadly Turn At Intersection With History of Pedestrian Peril

By Nick Miroff and Lena H. Sun
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, February 16, 2007

Martha Stringer Schoenborn always called her husband, Greg, twice on her way home from work: first when she walked out of the Federal Trade Commission and then before entering the Archives-Navy Memorial Metro station. She called Greg once Wednesday night.

"I started making calls," Greg Schoenborn said yesterday at the Alexandria home the couple shared. "I must have called her 50 times. I thought, 'What's going on? Where is my wife?' "

Schoenborn and Sally Dean McGhee -- her friend, neighbor and co-worker -- were struck and killed by a Metrobus while crossing Pennsylvania Avenue NW at 6:39 p.m.

At the intersection where the two women were killed, there have been eight accidents in the past two years involving Metrobuses and pedestrians, making it one of the city's most dangerous, transportation planners and city officials said yesterday. The incident, on Seventh Street, is at least the third involving an FTC employee and a Metrobus, said FTC spokeswoman Nancy Ness Judy.

Metro's new general manager, John B. Catoe Jr., responded to the latest incident by announcing that all 2,400 Metrobus operators will undergo safety training every year.

The bus driver in Wednesday's accident, Victor Z. Kolako, 53, of Southeast Washington, was arraigned in D.C. Superior Court yesterday and charged with two counts of negligent homicide. Kolako, a driver since 2000, has been placed on unpaid administrative leave. Metro officials and D.C. police said they were awaiting the results of standard drug and alcohol tests.

According to court documents prepared for his appearance before Magistrate Judge Evelyn B. Coburn, both women were pulled under the bus by the impact. The roadway was partially covered with snow and ice, "but the crosswalk was clear and visible," the documents said. A witness told police that the driver did not look when he made the turn, failed to yield the right of way to the women and did not apply the brakes.

Metro officials said they were taking several steps to improve pedestrian safety. In addition to training sessions, officials said, they will have talks with bus drivers to "re-emphasize the requirement to wait for and yield to pedestrians in crosswalks," Catoe said in a written statement.

"We offer our condolences to the families," Catoe told reporters at a Metro board meeting yesterday. "It was a tragedy. We need to do everything possible to avoid a repeat. That bus operator has made left turns 10,000 times successfully. Unfortunately, this time something happened that was different."

The two women had the "walk" signal to cross Pennsylvania Avenue. Metrobus 2124, running the 54 route to Takoma, was traveling north on Seventh Street and making a left turn onto Pennsylvania Avenue, officials said.

The intersection is especially dangerous because the traffic signals are timed to give priority to drivers on Pennsylvania Avenue rather than walkers crossing its nine lanes. Pedestrians have 30 seconds to cross the avenue. By contrast, pedestrians crossing Seventh Street have 55 seconds south of the avenue and 46 seconds north of it.

"Thirty seconds may not be enough time for slower-moving pedestrians to cross at that location," said Colleen Mitchell, a transportation planner for Toole Design Group, a Hyattsville-based consulting firm helping the city improve pedestrian safety.

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