- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Metro has been hit with three multimillion-dollar lawsuits filed in recent weeks by families of people who were killed in Metrobus accidents.

The latest lawsuit, filed earlier this month in federal court in the District, seeks up to $20 million in the death of an employee at the Federal Trade Commission who was killed by a bus while walking across Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest in February.

The sister of Sally Dean McGhee, 54, said in the lawsuit that the Metrobus driver, Victor Z. Kolako, was driving “recklessly and without appropriate caution” in the accident, which occurred Feb. 14 at Seventh Street and Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest.

Also killed in that accident was Federal Trade Commission employee Martha Schoenborn, 59, whose husband filed a lawsuit on March 19 seeking up to $100 million.

In a response to one of the lawsuits, Metro attorneys said “some or all of the claims may be barred” under the legislation creating Metro. The response did not specify which claims might be considered barred.

The complaint filed by Mrs. Schoenborn’s husband said both victims were struck while in the crosswalk on a green light, with the “walk” signal activated.

A third lawsuit filed against Metro on April 27 stemmed from a June 8 accident, in which a Metro bus fatally struck Emily S. Fenichel while she was crossing the intersection of Wisconsin Avenue and Jenifer Street in Northwest.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court by Mrs. Fenichel’s husband, said she suffered “a horrific death,” pinned beneath the left front wheel of the bus before dying of massive internal injuries at Washington Hospital Center less than an hour after the accident.

Metro officials declined to comment on the specific accusations in the lawsuits, though Metro spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said, “They were very tragic accidents and our hearts go out to the surviving families.”

The drivers in each of the fatal accidents have been dismissed, Miss Farbstein said. In addition, Mr. Kolako, 42, is facing a trial in D.C. Superior Court on negligent homicide charges in the accident.

Another civil case is pending in federal court in the District. The family of Mia Banks sued after the 25-year-old Landover resident was killed by a Metro bus Dec. 22, 2005, while she was crossing at the intersection of Third and D streets in Southwest.

So far this year, three Metrobus accidents have resulted in four fatalities. Overall, officials say Metrobus accidents have held steady despite ridership and mileage increases.

Metro officials say they have enacted several safety measures in response to the accidents, including a pilot program to put a collision-avoidance systems on 50 buses and to increase monitoring and training of bus drivers.

In addition, Metro officials say they have bought a bus simulator, installed flashing lights atop 100 buses and began a mentoring program for newer Metrobus drivers.

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