The driver of a double-decker tour bus that last year barreled into a busy San Francisco intersection, crashed into 12 vehicles and injured 19 people was speeding, authorities announced Wednesday.
After a four-month investigation, San Francisco police and California Highway Patrol investigators determined the Nov. 13 crash at a Union Square intersection was the result of operator error.
Police on Wednesday cited bus driver Kenneth Malvar, 53, on suspicion of traveling at an unsafe speed. His speed clocked above 40 mph on a stretch of road where the speed limit is 25 mph, police said.
Malvar had claimed the crash was the result of a faulty safety system--including the brakes, throttle and steering--on the Orion tour bus, CHP Capt. Christopher Sherry said at a news conference.
“Our inspection did not reveal any preexisting mechanical conditions or failures that would have affected the safe operations of this vehicle on the highway,” Sherry said. “All damage that was evident was determined to be as a result of this collision.”
Malvar was one of 19 people injured. Among the injured were ten people who were inside vehicles, four pedestrians, a bicyclist, two bus passengers and a bus employee, police said.
The incident began in the 500 block of Post Street, when the bus hit a bicyclist, then orange construction barricades and a vehicle. From there, the bus continued through Post, Mason and Powell streets and struck a railway sign.
At that point, the bus struck several vehicles, construction scaffolding on a building and a utility pole.
The bus finally came to a rest in the 300 block of Post Street.
Six people suffered life-threatening injuries.
Malvar’s attorney Robert Cartwright contends his client, who is a U.S. Marine, used the bus’ safety equipment and steered it in such a way to hit “soft targets” to avoid further destruction. The crash was the result of an “unintended acceleration,” he said.
Cartwright said the investigation is worrisome because much of the evidence, including the braking system, was altered and destroyed before independent investigators could perform an audit.
CHP officials said some of the bus’ mechanical system was damaged and had to be repaired to its preexisting condition so investigators could test it to determine whether it was faulty before the crash.
The open-top bus was owned by City Sightseeing San Francisco.
Malvar told investigators he stepped on the brake and tried to stop the bus, Sgt. Kevin Edison said.
"Our investigation shows that if he did in fact step on the brake, which we believe he definitely did not, we have proof to show that he stepped on the throttle," he said. "That's why we believe he just apparently stepped on the wrong pedal."
Police did not find friction marks on the road to show that he attempted to brake, Edison said.
Firefighters described a chaotic scene at the crash site as they rushed to rescue victims trapped under the bus.
Mindy Talmadge, spokeswoman for the San Francisco Police Department, could not recall a tour bus crash of this magnitude in 20 years with the department.
"This is definitely a serious multi-casualty incident," she said at the time.
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