Two dead, others injured in possible runaway bus crash


KIRKLAND, Wash. - Two people were killed and two others were hurt in a crash involving what the driver said was a runaway Sound Transit bus in Kirkland.

The crash happened on Interstate 405 in Totem Lake Monday night.

Investigators said the bus was headed northbound and exited on the HOV ramp to 128th Street. It had a red light, but didn't stop when it slammed into an SUV, killing 76-year-old Robert Rotta, who was sitting in the back seat.

Rotta's wife, 75-year-old Elizabeth Rotta, was in the front passenger's seat, and their son, who was driving, 51-year-old Kendall Rotta, were taken to Harborview in critical condition. Elizabeth Rotta later died at the hospital.

Kendall Rotta is now in satisfactory condition.

The State Patrol said one passenger on the bus had minor injuries.

After the crash, the bus continued for at least a mile before it stopped.

The State Patrol said it received 911 calls from passengers who said the bus didn't stop after the crash.

When troopers contacted the bus driver near 136th Avenue Northeast on I-405, he said he couldn't stop because of brake problems.

According to Sound Transit, there were 35 people on the Route 535 bus from Bellevue to Lynnwood.

A Sound Transit official said the bus that crashed was a 2008 Gillig Phantom, a 40-footer built in California. Sound Transit owns the bus, and Community Transit in Snohomish County operates it. Community Transit subcontracts with First Transit, Inc. of Cincinnati, which employs the driver and maintenance crews.

State Patrol documents identified the driver as Aleksandr G. Rukhlin, 54 of Everett. KIRO 7 could not reach him for comment, but troopers said he told them the brakes failed.

In a statement, First Transit said the driver had been employed since June 2012 and has not been involved in any previous incidents while working for the company. A First Transit spokesman would not detail the driver's history before joining the company.

The First Transit spokesman said the driver is "no longer in service, pending the outcome of the investigation."

The crash did not cause a sudden wave of new inspections.

"Since we still don't know what happened to the bus last night we're not doing anything special right now," said Community Transit spokesman Martin Munguia.

Munguia said First Transit employees perform maintenance every 6,000 miles, which is usually about every two to three weeks. In addition, Munguia said Community Transit inspectors perform a more thorough check every six months. Community Transit has turned over inspection records to State Patrol investigators, but has not released them to KIRO 7.

Sound Transit said it has 30 buses of the same year and model as the one that crashed and 25 additional Gilligs from different years. King County Metro said it has no buses that are the precisely the same. Metro's 155 40-foot Gilligs were made in 2000 or earlier. Metro has a total of 226 Gilligs of different models, a small portion of its fleet of 1,400 buses and trolleys.

"This is a horrible accident," said Sound Transit spokesman Bruce Gray, "and since we started running buses in 1999, we've never had anything like this happen. There's a lot of people right now who are shaken-up within the agency trying to figure out what's happened and get to the root cause of this."

The State Patrol is investigating.

Two lanes of north I-405 were closed Tuesday morning while state investigators examined the bus, which suffered significant front-end damage in the crash.

Officials will examine the bus for mechanical failure.

The driver was tested for drugs and alcohol, which is standard procedure after a crash. The Washington State Patrol said there was no indication that the driver was under the influence.