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Family of victims file suit in deadly 2013 Kirkland bus accident

This SUV was hit by a Sound Transit bus in May of 2013 on the I-405 carpool overpass in the Totem Lake neighborhood of Kirkland. The accident took the lives of Robert and Elizabeth Rotta of Bellevue. A recent Washington State Patrol report recommends charges against the bus driver.  - Reporter file photo
This SUV was hit by a Sound Transit bus in May of 2013 on the I-405 carpool overpass in the Totem Lake neighborhood of Kirkland. The accident took the lives of Robert and Elizabeth Rotta of Bellevue. A recent Washington State Patrol report recommends charges against the bus driver.
— image credit: Reporter file photo

A Sound Transit bus driver, who is facing possible charges for vehicular homicide, is also being sued by the family of the victims involved in the May 2013 accident in Kirkland. The accident resulted in the deaths of a couple from Bellevue.

Filed in January, the complaint accuses the bus driver, Everett resident Aleksandr G. Rukhlin, 54, of operating the bus in a “negligent or reckless fashion” and also alleges negligence of his employer, First Transit, Inc., for failing to properly hire, train and supervise Rukhlin. The complaint is seeking compensation for past and future medical expenses, as well as other damages but did not name a specific amount.

First Transit Inc., based in Ohio, is contracted through Community Transit of Snohomish County to operate Sound Transit’s Snohomish County routes.

The family is also suing First Transit, Inc.’s, insurance company.

A response to the complaint dated Feb. 28 filed by First Transit, Inc., denied both claims but did not provide any further details other than “defendants are without knowledge or information sufficient to form a belief as to the truth” of the respective allegations. A trial for the complaint has been set for March 30, 2015.

Last week, the Washington State Patrol’s Major Accident Investigation Team (MAIT) released the conclusions of their investigation of the accident, which according to Sound Transit is the first fatality involving one of their express buses since they first started in 1999.

The MAIT investigation determined that Rukhlin was responsible for the crash by failing to stop at a red light and have asked the King County Prosecutor to consider charging him with two counts of vehicular homicide, one count of vehicular assault and one count of hit and run with death.

Dan Donohoe, press secretary for the King County Prosecutor’s Office, wrote in an email that the case is currently under review and it will be several weeks before they decide whether or not to file any charges.

According to MAIT, Rukhlin did not noticeably slow the bus down as it traveled northbound on I-405 and up onto the transit ramp to Northeast 128th Street. The report said the bus was traveling approximately 45 mph when it entered the intersection and struck the SUV carrying the victims. The MAIT concluded that despite passengers telling Rukhlin to stop the bus following the collision, it continued moving for one minute and 13 seconds, driving nearly three-quarters of a mile and into the carpool on-ramp to northbound I-405. Passengers finally intervened to get Rukhlin to stop the bus. The MAIT report said the SUV was going approximately 23 mph when the vehicle was struck.

Robert H. Rotta, 76, died at the scene, and Elizabeth E. Rotta, 75, died from her injuries early the next morning at an area hospital. Both were Bellevue residents. Kendall L. Rotta, 51, a Kirkland resident, suffered a concussion and a fractured rib and was transported to Harborview Medical Center.

Rukhlin was cooperative throughout the investigation and agreed to perform a drug influence evaluation, as well as a blood test. Both the evaluation and blood test results were negative for any signs of drug or alcohol impairment. He told investigators following the crash that the brakes had failed, but a follow-up investigation concluded in June 2013 that the brakes had been operating fine at the time of the crash. Rukhlin was put on paid administrative leave following the accident.

According to an email statement sent by First Transit, Inc., Ruhklin is currently on unpaid administrative leave.

“The safety of First Transit passengers, as well as those with whom First Transit shares the roads, is a responsibility that First Transit takes very seriously,” the statement said. “First Transit has cooperated fully with the Washington State Patrol investigation of this accident. First Transit continues to offer our full cooperation with all parties involved with the judicial process.”

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