- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 19, 2016

PITTSBURGH (AP) - A western Pennsylvania judge will rule Thursday in the trial of two transit workers accused of driving empty buses so recklessly side-by-side that they scraped together just before one crashed.

Allegheny County Judge Jeffrey Manning heard closing arguments Tuesday in the reckless endangerment trial of former Port Authority drivers Juliann Maier and Thomas Frauens, who prosecutors accuse of racing 65 mph in a 55 mph zone on Interstate 279 before Maier’s bus went down an embankment in September 2014.

Defense attorney Joel Sansone said Maier, 47, whose injuries included a broken pelvis and four broken ribs, was a cautious driver whose bus had a mechanical failure. He and defense witnesses said problems with the bus’s brakes, steering and suspension caused it to shake and sway out of control.

“No one plays tag with a bus, and certainly not Julie Maier,” Sansone said. “It’s not clear why this bus was ever permitted to be on the road. … It isn’t clear why Julie Maier was selected as a scapegoat here.”

Assistant District Attorney Brian Catanzarite said it was the conduct of the drivers rather than mechanical issues that caused the crash and endangered people.

Maier said she noticed a shake in the bus and sped up to even it out, but Catanzarite said it happened just as Frauens waved at her from his bus in a “come on” gesture, then made a “buggy whip” gesture as she sped up. If she felt problems, she should have slowed down and pulled over as other bus drivers testified they would have done, Catanzarite said.

“When she accelerated her bus to stay next to and pass another bus, knowing there were other drivers on the road, that was the reckless conduct,” he said.

Frauens, 57, also faces a charge of leaving the scene of an accident, but his attorney, Bruce Carsia, argued that his client never knew that the buses had collided. He said gestures his client made to Maier as their buses passed each other were “driver talk” and not an invitation to race.

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