Olivia Gamboa was just beginning her shift on Metro Line 18 in downtown L.A. when a tow truck smashed head-on into her bus early Wednesday.
The 13-year veteran, who was steering an otherwise unoccupied bus near 5th Street and Broadway, died after the tow truck driver ran a red light and slammed into the bus before 5:10 a.m., LAPD Sgt. Rudy Lopez said.
Gamboa, 47, was described by co-workers as a quiet, family-oriented woman who had a big smile and could light up the division — even in the early morning, said Marc Littman, a Metropolitan Transportation Authority spokesman.
The bus driver always put a smile on the overnight service employees' faces and was well-liked by her passengers, she said. Over the years, Gamboa had received a number of commendations.
Gamboa was proud of her job and came from a family of bus operators, Littman said. Her husband works for Metro and her daughter recently started there as well.
It is rare for operators to be killed while on duty, but on occasion drivers have died in traffic accidents, he said. In May 2012, a bus driver was fatally shot in West Hollywood.
"These tragic incidents are very infrequent, but because we're a family it really hits us," Littman said.
Grief counselors have been dispatched to counsel employees, and Metro will work with the employees union and Gamboa's division to plan a memorial service, Littman said.
"Metro is saddened to learn of the passing of one of our family members this morning as a result of a horrific accident in downtown Los Angeles," Dave Sotero of Metro said.
The early morning collision sent the tow truck careening into a 7-Eleven convenience store, injuring a clerk, who was treated at the scene. The storefront was "completely destroyed," Lopez said.
The tow truck driver was hospitalized in serious condition, officials said.