KIRKLAND, wash. - A KIRO 7 Exclusive: The man who rushed to the front of the bus involved in a fatal crash in Kirkland spoke only to Monique Ming Laven about what he saw that evening. The following account comes from his interview:
Cameron Anderson was working late on Monday night. He boarded his usual commuter bus in Bellevue -- the 535 -- but at least an hour later than usual. He needed to stop and grab his daughter a Lunchables to pack for school the next day, but other than that, it seemed like a normal night. He sat about midway back of the bus. Like any average commuter, he was killing time by checking his cellphone. Then an explosive, crashing sound.
"The moment impact happened," Anderson said, "I looked up and saw the glass flying -- the window just shattering."
The driver's side window had a big crack -- the passenger side front window was shattered into pieces. Some of the pieces landed on one woman at the front of the bus. She was clearly hurt and getting thrown around. He looked outside and briefly saw the lights of the Totem Lake bus stop as they whizzed by. The bus wasn't slowing down at all. He wondered if there was something wrong with the driver.
As the bus continued to barrel on -- he saw just a flash of the crumpled SUV that was left behind. Anderson rushed to the front of the bus. He says he was surprised to see the driver, with both hands on the wheel, continuing to drive forward.
"I crouched down and just started asking, 'Have you tried stopping the bus? Have you tried stopping this? Have you done anything to stop this? And no response.'"
Anderson said he never saw the driver, Aleksandr Ruhklin, try to pump the brakes. He kept asking Ruhklin if he was trying to stop the bus, and Ruhklin eventually responded that the brakes had failed. Anderson suggested downshifting to slow the bus down. Ruhklin eventually did that, and the bus stopped -- just short of a mile from the accident. The woman hurt at the front of the bus was treated at Evergreen Hospital and released.
As Anderson and the other 25 passengers waited for troopers to arrive and give their statements, they learned there was one fatality from the accident. The following day they discovered there were two killed: Bob and Betty Rotta, a couple married for 55 years, with a loving family, including the adult son who was driving them.
"My heart goes out to them, " Anderson told us through tears, "I'm sorry that family was there. I'm super glad it was me on the bus side -- so I could be home with my family."
Anderson said he's not certain what happened in the moments before he rushed to the front of the bus. He does not know if the driver ever tried to hit the brakes before Anderson got there. But he's puzzled about why the driver wouldn't have used his horn to warn other vehicles that he couldn't stop or why Ruhklin never tried to use the brakes during the time that Anderson was at the front of the bus.
Anderson said he is not trying to judge or place blame on the driver, he just wants to help fill out the truth.
At this point, Anderson does not believe this was 100 percent mechanical error, but he has faith the investigation will determine what went wrong.