In October, New Times published an investigation chronicling a rash of passenger injuries on Miami-Dade County's public bus system -- and worse, the county's habit of retaining bad drivers. Through the first eight months of 2014, we found, county buses hit pedestrians and bicyclists seven times in "preventable" accidents; 97 passengers fell while riding, boarding, or exiting buses; and 56 passengers were reported otherwise injured.
That report caught the eye of County Commissioner Xavier Suarez, who paid particularly close attention because of a recent experience with another bus collision caused by a driver with a bad record -- one he witnessed himself. "The looks on their faces when this happened," the commissioner says of a visiting family he says was nearly killed, "I'll never forget it."
Now, Suarez has gotten the background on that driver and -- surprise! -- it's less than stellar.
The incident that rankled Suarez came last August when a relative dropped off the former Miami mayor near his summer rental on 26th Street in Miami Beach. As he was exiting the car, Suarez was jolted by a loud bang -- his wife, a quarter-mile away on the beach, would later say she thought it was an explosion -- and then saw the back of a county bus as it drove away. The bus had smashed into a wooden post, apparently there as a protective barrier for pedestrians, as it headed south on Indian Creek Drive where it merges into Collins Avenue.
Had it not been for that post, Suarez says, a family with three children waiting to cross the street on the side of the road would likely have been hit -- and possibly killed.
"They realized but for the grace of God -- or the wooden post," the commissioner says, "they would have been history."
A few minutes later, Suarez approached the family, who were clearly shaken and said they were visiting from the Caribbean, and apologized "on behalf of the county" for the terrifying near miss.
But he didn't stop there. Dismayed by the bus driver's failure to stop after the collision, Suarez followed up with Miami-Dade Transit. Last week, he finally got a report on the accident and the driver's personnel file.
The driver, Rodney Burnes, has recorded more than a dozen accidents in 12 years on the job, including two deemed preventable within a four-month period in 2011. He has also earned reprimands for failing to report to work and failing to immediately report one collision that broke off a car's mirror.
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In the August collision that Suarez witnessed, the department's investigation concluded the bus driver was "aware that something [was] wrong" after the crash but "did not stop to check [the] condition of [the] bus, did not contact [transportation authorities], and left the scene."
A transit spokeswoman says Miami-Dade Transit handled the incident according to protocol once the collision was reported. "As with all incidents, an investigation was initiated and... Burnes was retrained," Irene Ferradaz says.
Months later, Suarez is still bewildered by the response of the driver. "You're not supposed to do that," Suarez says. "At the very least, you get out and reconnoiter."