WA: Sound Transit Bus Driver May Face Charges in 2013 Fatal Crash

May 15--The Washington State Patrol is suggesting felony charges be brought against a Sound Transit bus driver who failed to stop for a red light, causing a May 6, 2013, collision that killed two people in Kirkland.

Detectives have requested prosecutors consider filing two counts of vehicular homicide and one count of hit-and-run against driver Aleksandr Rukhlin, the State Patrol said Wednesday.

The Route 535 bus from Bellevue to Lynnwood was traveling north on Interstate 405, when it took an uphill, left-side exit to the Totem Lake Transit Center, at 9:33 p.m. Witnesses say the bus ran a red light and hit a Ford Escape. The bus continued forward, down the onramp toward the northbound freeway.

Robert and Elizabeth Rotta, of Bellevue, who had been married 54 years, died in the Escape, which was driven by their son, Ken Rotta, who suffered a broken rib.

The King County Prosecutor's Office received a report last week from the State Patrol and is reviewing potential charges, said office spokesman Dan Donohoe. A decision might be a couple weeks away, he said.

Troopers haven't stated a theory yet about why Rukhlin drove past a red light.

Rukhlin, 54, of Everett, cooperated with investigators and passed toxicology tests, the State Patrol said. The roadway and signals were in good condition.

The State Patrol's investigation found that Rukhlin slowed from 60 mph to 45 mph while exiting, and continued uphill at that speed, until the moment of impact.

The SUV was traveling the overpass at 23 mph, troopers said.

According to state law, a driver doesn't necessarily have to be intoxicated, or even reckless, to be charged with vehicular homicide, but merely to drive "with disregard for the safety of others" in a fatal crash.

Passengers on the bus reported yelling at the driver to stop, but he continued toward northbound I-405. The bus traveled nearly three-quarters of a mile in 73 seconds, before passengers were able to intervene and assist in getting the bus stopped, according to troopers.

Rukhlin told The Seattle Times , a month after the crash:

"I just pushed on the pedal. There was nothing, I couldn't stop the bus. The air pressure was fine -- I don't know why it didn't work." After impact, he said, "I was confused ... I lowed down the gear, and it couldn't stop the bus."

An inspection report released by Sound Transit said that a week before the crash, there was a complaint that the bus pulled to the right while braking. A mechanic found no pulling, and the brake pads were a quarter-inch thick, beyond the minimum standard.

The bus, a 2008 Gillig Phantom, had 298,072 miles on it. The model is rated to last 12 years or 500,000 miles. A post-crash investigation found the brakes worked properly, said Sound Transit spokesman Bruce Gray.

The bus has green-and-blue Sound Transit colors but is operated under contract by Community Transit, which subcontracts with the company First Transit for operations and maintenance. Rukhlin is on unpaid administrative leave, a Community Transit spokesman said Wednesday.

The Totem Lake crash is the only fatal incident involving ST Express since the service began in 1999.

Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or mlindblom@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @mikelindblom

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