Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Ex-Transit driver fined for running over senior

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A daydreaming Winnipeg Transit driver neglected safety rules and cost an elderly passenger the use of his leg, court heard Tuesday.

Veraldin Ong, 43, was fined $2,000 and barred from driving for six months as punishment for dangerous driving, which caused serious harm to an 84-year-old rider.

The man was exiting the rear doors of the Route 77 bus on the Chief Peguis Trail on Dec. 20, 2011, when the vehicle suddenly accelerated.

The senior was only halfway out of the doors, and they had only been open for seconds. The victim fell to the ground from the sudden movement and the bus ran over his legs.

He suffered blood loss and doctors had to amputate his right leg near the knee, Crown attorney Neil Steen said.

He spent more than three months in hospital recovering and still requires ongoing assessments.

The man was independent before being run over but he's now confined to a wheelchair and depends on his family for care, Steen said.

Now 86, he laments the loss of his freedom and fears he's "quickly turning into a couch potato," the prosecutor added.

Ong felt the bump of the man going under the wheels of his bus. He immediately stopped and went into emergency mode to summon help, provincial court Judge Wanda Garreck heard.

The police and Winnipeg Transit investigation found Ong had flipped a master switch on his console allowing him to move the bus with the doors open.

When the switch is not in the emergency position, the brakes lock, Steen said.

Ong failed to check his mirrors and ignored warning bells and buzzers, Garreck heard.

The incident was caught on camera.

"He believed that the door was stuck open and that is why he pushed the override switch," Steen said, referring to Ong's comments to police.

Ong admitted knowing the switch wasn't to be used unless there was a situation requiring urgent movement of the bus.

"He used the switch in a situation it was never designed for," said Steen.

Ong told police he was having a great day on his route but was daydreaming about the upcoming Christmas holiday and not focused on his job.

"He candidly admits he was complacent, distracted and that his attention was not what it ought to have been," Steen said.

Ong no longer works at Transit after a three-year stint there. It wasn't disclosed whether he was fired or resigned.

He twice visited the victim in hospital in an effort to try to make amends, Garreck was told. The victim did not want Ong to go to jail, Steen said.

Defence lawyer Daniel Cleto urged Garreck to impose a discharge as Ong's sentence and not bar him from driving, which he depends on to earn a living.

"He did not deliberately attempt to break the rules," Cleto said. A discharge would have allowed him to escape a criminal conviction and a black mark on his driver's abstract.

"I did not deliberately do these things," Ong told Garreck. "I'm an honest person... If I could take back time, I would."

Garreck ruled a discharge and allowing him to keep driving wouldn't be in the public interest.

She agreed Ong is a "fine person" who had a "complete lapse" and didn't intend harm. But, said Garreck, bus passengers are dependent on drivers to follow safety rules.

"There's no way you could have thought anyone, let alone (the elderly victim), could have cleared those doors in two seconds," she said.

Ong's conduct was a "marked departure" of the standard of care expected of Transit drivers, Garreck found.

james.turner@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 21, 2014 A4

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