Driver’s blackout caused bus crash

Police will not charge a city bus driver — now identified as Ralph Dowdle, 52, of Arden — that crashed a bus into several College Street businesses Saturday, April 17. In an announcement today, the Asheville Police Department stated, “Dowdle lost consciousness due to the rapid onset of an undiagnosed medical condition.”

“The bus careened onto the sidewalk after Mr. Dowdle blacked out behind the wheel,” the announcement states. The bus crashed into several vehicles, damaging the fronts of the Mediterranean Restaurant, Stella Blue and Spa Theology. It also ruptured a gas line, closing down part of the street for much of the day until the leak was repaired.

“The APD Traffic Safety Unit consulted with the Buncombe County District Attorney’s Office on Monday afternoon regarding whether charges would be filed. It was concluded that there will be no charges in this case,” as Dowdle lost consciousness due to a medical condition. Dowdle was also taken to Mission, but released later that same day.

Dowdle had met the physical and licensing requirements required for a bus driver.

The crash also seriously injured a woman, Susan Zakanycz, 55, of Asheville, who was walking into the restaurant. She remains under care at Mission Hospital.

An announcement from the city revealed that Spa Theology and Stella Blue would be closed until Friday as they undergo repairs. The Mediterranean Restaurant has already reopened.

“The City of Asheville shares in the community’s concern for the pedestrian who was injured,” Transportation Director Ken Putnam said in the announcement. “We are all saddened by this accident, and our hearts go out to her and her family.

The full announcements from the city and police are below.

— David Forbes, senior reporter

Photo by Alan Hantz

ASHEVILLE – APD Traffic Safety Unit officers have issued their report on a city bus wreck that occurred at about 10 a.m. April 17 at 57 College St.

The bus driver was Mr. Ralph Terry Dowdle, birth date 2/24/1958, of Arden. Mr. Dowdle is employed by a subsidiary of First Transit, which operates and manages the city’s public transportation program.

The bus careened onto the sidewalk after Mr. Dowdle blacked out behind the wheel.

A pedestrian, Ms. Susan Jane Zakanycz, birth date 3/21/1955, of Asheville, was seriously injured in the collision. She remains under care at Mission Hospital.

Mr. Dowdle was also examined at Mission shortly after the wreck. He was released the same day.

The APD Traffic Safety Unit consulted with the Buncombe County District Attorney’s Office on Monday afternoon regarding whether charges would be filed. It was concluded that there will be no charges in this case, as Mr. Dowdle lost consciousness due to the rapid onset of an undiagnosed medical condition.
Pursuant to the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), law enforcement cannot release details of medical records.
—-
The City of Asheville issued a statement following the conclusion of an investigation by the Asheville Police Department into a bus wreck that occurred April 17 at 57 College St.

According to investigative reports, the bus veered onto the sidewalk and injured a pedestrian after the driver blacked out behind the wheel. After the Asheville Police Department consulted with the District Attorney’s Office, it was concluded that no charges would be filed in the case since it appeared the driver lost consciousness due to a health-related episode. The driver is employed by a subsidiary of First Transit, Asheville Transit Management, Inc., which operates and manages the city’s public transportation system.

“The City of Asheville shares in the community’s concern for the pedestrian who was injured,” said Ken Putnam, director of the city’s transportation department. “We are all saddened by this accident, and our hearts go out to her and her family.” The pedestrian remains under care at Mission Hospital.

Bus drivers are required by federal regulations to undergo a physical every two years. Drivers are also required to have a valid commercial driver’s license, which involves meeting specific testing and training standards. Asheville Transit Management, Inc. has confirmed that the driver in this case was current with these requirements.

“Our number one priority is safety. We take safety of the service provided by the city bus fleet, its drivers, and First Transit, the company that contracts with the city to operate the fleet, very seriously,” said Putnam. “In this case, it appears that this was a very unfortunate, tragic and unavoidable incident. We are sympathetic toward everyone who was involved or affected by this accident.”

Asheville Transit is regulated by the Federal Transit Administration and is audited by the federal agency every three years. The audit includes a review of the system’s safety, training and inspection standards.

Three buildings on College Street also sustained damage as a result of the collision. Two buildings housing Stella’s and Spa Theology remain unoccupied due to repair work that must be completed before they can reopen for business. City building code officials are continuing to work with the building owners to facilitate the installation of temporary structural column supports and overhead safety measures on the sidewalk. These temporary repairs will allow time for final repairs to be made while the businesses are open and operating.

Officials estimate that the buildings housing Stella’s and Spa Theology will be able to reopen by late Friday. The building housing the Mediterranean Restaurant received gas service late yesterday and is able to open for business.

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6 thoughts on “Driver’s blackout caused bus crash

  1. Paul smith

    I love mtn express but why the hell are you publishing these peoples names AND their BIRTHDATES!!! With all the identity theft going on I’d think you would show a little more discretion;for god’s sake man they feel bad enough without having to worry about some freak digging into their personal life.

  2. Jeff Fobes

    Local attorney Sam Craig wrote on Twitter this morning, “This “sudden incapacitation” case may well come up in the sure-to-happen lawsuit re Asheville bus wreck http://bit.ly/9NyOEP

    The link is to a downloadable PDF (excerpts below):

    NO. COA09-381
    NORTH CAROLINA COURT OF APPEALS
    Filed: 20 April 2010
    JULIANNA SIMMONS HENRY,
    Plaintiff,
    v. Wake County
    No. 07 CVD 3284
    PETER AXEL KNUDSEN,
    Defendant.

    Julianna Simmons Henry (“plaintiff”) appeals from the trial court’s judgment entered consistent with the jury’s verdict that plaintiff was not injured by the negligence of Peter Axel Knudsen
    (“defendant”) and order entered denying her motions for directed verdict, judgment notwithstanding the verdict and a new trial. For the following reasons, we affirm.

    The elements of the affirmative defense of sudden
    incapacitation are “as follows: (i) the defendant was stricken by
    a sudden incapacitation, (ii) this incapacitation was unforeseeable
    to the defendant, (iii) the defendant was unable to control the
    vehicle as a result of this incapacitation, and (iv) this sudden
    incapacitation caused the accident.” Word v. Jones ex rel. Moore,
    350 N.C. 557, 562, 516 S.E.2d 144, 147 (1999)

    Despite his heart problems, defendant
    was given the authority to operate a motor vehicle by the Division
    of Motor Vehicles based upon a recommendation by his treating
    physician. Defendant testified that prior to 9 February 2007, he
    had not had any episodes of sudden onset of chest pain like the one
    he experienced that day or any loss of consciousness while driving.

    On the day of the accident, defendant testified that moments
    before the collision he had an “unbelievable” and “awful pain” in
    his chest, but before he could reach his nitroglycerin tablets he
    “blacked out.” Defendant testified that the next thing he
    remembered was “a bang.”

    The elements of the affirmative defense of sudden
    incapacitation are “as follows: (i) the defendant was stricken by
    a sudden incapacitation, (ii) this incapacitation was unforeseeable
    to the defendant, (iii) the defendant was unable to control the
    vehicle as a result of this incapacitation, and (iv) this sudden
    incapacitation caused the accident.” Word v. Jones ex rel. Moore,
    350 N.C. 557, 562, 516 S.E.2d 144, 147 (1999) (citation omitted).
    Here the record shows that defendant presented evidence to
    support the elements of sudden incapacitation. Defendant testified
    that in 1989 he had a massive heart attack and underwent bypass
    surgery. About 2000 or 2001, defendant had another heart attack
    and had four stents put into his heart by his treating physician.
    In 2005, because of problems with his heart, defendant had open
    heart surgery and was given a mechanical heart valve and a
    pacemaker. Defendant testified that these treatments left him with
    congestive heart failure. Despite his heart problems, defendant
    was given the authority to operate a motor vehicle by the Division
    of Motor Vehicles based upon a recommendation by his treating
    physician. Defendant testified that prior to 9 February 2007, he
    had not had any episodes of sudden onset of chest pain like the one
    he experienced that day or any loss of consciousness while driving.
    On the day of the accident, defendant testified that moments
    before the collision he had an “unbelievable” and “awful pain” in
    his chest, but before he could reach his nitroglycerin tablets he
    “blacked out.” Defendant testified that the next thing he
    remembered was “a bang.” Defendant testified that he regained
    -12-
    consciousness, was able to place a nitroglycerin tablet under his
    tongue, and “in about a minute the [chest] pain started to
    subside[.]” Plaintiff argues that defendant’s claim of sudden
    onset of pain and loss of consciousness is not credible, based upon
    his failure to report these problems to emergency medical personnel
    who responded to the accident. However, defendant’s credibility
    was for the jury to decide. See Burris v. Shumate, 77 N.C. App.
    209, 212, 334 S.E.2d 514, 516 (1985) (“[C]redibility of the
    testimony is for the jury to decide.”). Taken in the light most
    favorable to defendant, the above evidence establishes “more than
    a scintilla of evidence in support of each element of his
    defense[,]” Snead, 101 N.C. App. at 464, 400 S.E.2d at 92, and the
    trial court properly denied plaintiff’s motion for a directed
    verdict at the end of all evidence.

  3. mjp53

    this case needs much more investigation asap.
    1st, view the video from inside the bus during the accident. the driver is weaving about like a rag doll. when the bus comes to a stop he hops right up and off the bus quick as you please.
    the intelligence insulting rational..”a rapid onset of a previously undiagnosed medical condition.” as an RN for 34+ years this is nonsense, both medicly and legally. the drivers recent medical records need to be made public, all blood work and toxicology. this crumb bum took a womans leg..illicit and or inapropriatly drugs are almost surely an issue, he may be a poorly controlled diabetic, which would also be his liability if he is not taking care of himself.
    please mountain express…don’t let this story go unexamined.

  4. real RN

    As an RN for 37+ years, I am distressed with mjp53’s rather hysterical and unprofessional comments. If she is indeed an experienced RN, she would have been able to tick off several medical conditions with well-documented histories of presentation like the driver’s.

    More than that, however, she would have known you don’t make a diagnosis (jump to conclusions) without having the supporting data. To make the kinds of rash, unsupported judgments mjp53 has made signals an irresponsibility and a lack of critical thinking skills on her part. Far from behaving like an exemplary professional, she comes across as a ranting teabagger.

    Nurses have worked very hard to elevate their professionalism in the medical community. This sort of hysterical and irrational conduct continues to dog our efforts and our reputations.

    Please, mjp53, nurse or not, first get the facts, then make your diagnosis and propose a course of action.

  5. marcus layton

    i started riding the city bus in march and after hearing about the crash it makes me think twice if i should ride the bus or not. they need to do a more throw phicial for all bus drivers before they allow them to drive.

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