MIAMI (CBSMiami) — The investigation surrounding the death of bus driver Laquita Alvin has expanded with Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez instructing police to examine not only how she died but also determine who may have tampered with a safety device on her bus that could have saved her life.
“The mayor has asked the police chief additionally to look at the issue of the severing of the seat alarm cords,” Miami-Dade Transit Director Ysela Llort said.
The seat alarm is designed to warn a driver if they have forgotten to engage the parking brake before trying to leave the bus.
Investigators found the cable for the seat alarm unconnected and dangling, tied in a knot, from the back of her seat. As CBS4 News first reported, in the days following the December 5 accident, Miami-Dade Transit officials ordered an immediate review of all buses with seat alarms. The survey found 92 percent of the seat alarms on county buses were broken or disabled.
The union representing bus drivers and mechanics believes the problem centers on budget cuts by the county which has left them with an aging bus fleet and not enough mechanics to fix them.
However, in her first public comments since Alvin, a single mother of three, was crushed and killed by her own bus, Llort confirmed the investigation would now include a criminal probe into possible sabotage.
“Whether it was intentional or not, they were detached,” Llort told CBS4 News.
Llort’s comments came after the county commission’s transit committee meeting Wednesday. Committee members expressed frustration over the accident and the fact that they had been kept in the dark about the circumstances of Alvin’s death.
“To learn that we had a mechanism in place that could have saved the life of a driver; and that that mechanism was not only disconnected, or not connected, but it was tied and nobody seemed to have taken it seriously,” said Commissioner Barbara Jordan. “Yes I understand the driver may not have placed the air brake, or whatever you call it, in place, but that seat alarm could have warned her to come back.”
Jordan continued, “I’m also stunned by the fact, that over 70 percent, based on the report that I’ve heard, that over 70 percent of that fleet exceeds the life expectancy of our buses being on the road.”
“Our vehicles are safe but they are also old,” Llort told the commissioner. “They are old.”
As commissioners started to ask Llort’s specific questions about Alvin’s death, the county attorney stepped in and advised them they should wait for the investigations to conclude.
County Commissioner Xavier Suarez disagreed. “There is no reason why this oversight committee should have to wait for a police investigation, the media has already done an amazing investigation,” he said.
Suarez said the county can’t afford to wait for the police to finish their probe.
“Having as many as 92 percent of the buses without the extra safety measure mentioned in unacceptable, having as more than 40 technician (mechanic) positions unfilled is unacceptable,” he said. “The quicker we get answers to these questions the better.”
Committee Chairman Esteban Bovo said they need to focus on making sure the bus system is safe.
“We have an obligation not only to the operators that use our equipment but we also have an obligation to the folks that ride our equipment and we need to be very thorough,” Bovo said.
Bovo said he was stunned to learn about the problems with seat alarms, and if the transit department was having an issue they should have come forward sooner.
“I don’t want to hear that this is a budgetary item because safety shouldn’t be a budgetary item,” he said. “I’d rather have to swallow the bitter pill that something is going to cost me some money but at the end of the day I’m making sure our riders and drivers are safe.”