Bus Driver Struck and Killed by Metro Train Was on Administrative Leave

By Lena H. Sun
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 15, 2009

A man who was struck and killed by a Blue Line train Friday afternoon at the McPherson Square Metro station was a 42-year-old Metrobus driver who was on administrative leave because he had been involved in a bus accident the week before, Metro officials said yesterday.

Witnesses said Kurtland Johnson, 42, of Washington jumped on the tracks and was hit at 1:16 p.m. Johnson had been a Metrobus operator since September. He was on leave pending an internal investigation into an accident March 6 on Connecticut Avenue between his N8 Metrobus, and a car. No one was injured in the crash. It is standard procedure for bus drivers and train operators to be put on administrative leave while the agency investigates accidents.

Friday's incident was the third involving a Metrobus driver in two weeks. Nine days ago, Metro fired Shawn Brim, 36, a Metrobus driver since June 2003, who was accused of punching an off-duty police officer dressed as McGruff the Crime Dog in a Feb. 28 incident. A week ago, an off-duty D.C. police officer shot and killed an off-duty Metrobus driver accused of trying to rob the officer.

Metro has about 2,400 bus operators and 1,500 buses. Several months ago, the agency began considering stricter hiring standards for bus drivers, and the issue recently took on more urgency. Applicants are disqualified if they have one felony conviction in the previous three years or two in the past 10 years, according to agency officials. Metro conducts background checks on all potential employees. Those with multiple arrests and convictions for lesser crimes are much less likely to be hired than people with clean records.

Metro officials have said that Metrobus drivers, whose average pay is $24 an hour, are often crime victims. More than 70 drivers were assaulted by passengers last year. The accident that resulted in Johnson's administrative leave took place at 4:30 p.m. Johnson was driving Metrobus 3719 on the way to the Van Ness-UDC Metrorail station. An automobile attempted to pass the bus at Connecticut Avenue and Van Ness Street NW and made contact with the bus, said spokesman Steven Taubenkibel.

At the time of the incident, there were no reported injuries to anyone. D.C. police filed no charges. Metro has not completed its investigation to determine whether the accident could have been avoided, Taubenkibel said. He said he did not know whether Johnson had been involved in any other bus accidents or what his employment history was before he joined Metro.

Yesterday, Johnson's wife, Yvette Thomas, said she was waiting for details on what happened to Johnson at the Metro station. "No one has told me anything. Looks like somebody would have been over here today to tell me something, but no one has been here," she said.

The McPherson Square Metro station was closed and Blue and Orange line service was disrupted for about three hours after Johnson was struck by a six-car train. The train was traveling toward the Franconia-Springfield Metro station.

Metro operated 25 free shuttle buses from the Foggy Bottom Station to the Federal Triangle Station. Normal rail service on the Blue and Orange lines resumed at 4:07 p.m.

Metro Transit Police and the D.C. medical examiner's office are conducting the investigation into Johnson's death.

Staff writer Keith Alexander contributed to this report.

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