The driver of a Metro Transit bus that veered out of control on Nicollet Mall late Friday morning has died, the transit agency said.
Whether the driver’s death was a result of the crash itself or the apparent medical condition that spurred the accident remained unclear Friday. A Metro Transit spokesman said the unnamed driver began working at the agency in 2013, but referred questions about the driver’s condition to the Hennepin County medical examiner’s office.
“Metro Transit extends its deepest sympathies and condolences to the operator’s family and friends,” said Metro Transit General Manager Brian Lamb in a statement. “Metro Transit operators are in many ways an extended family and this loss will be felt throughout the organization.”
About half a dozen people were on the bus when it veered out of control late Friday morning — running a red light, barreling down a Nicollet Mall sidewalk and clipping the WCCO-TV building — after the driver suffered a suspected medical emergency behind the wheel. One passenger reported an ankle injury after the crash.
Emergency crews raced to the corner of the mall and 11th Street, where the No. 10 bus finally came to stop in a public plaza, after colliding with a lamp post shortly after 10 a.m.
Witnesses said the driver passed out as the bus was heading south along the mall. The bus drifted out of its lane and jumped the curb, somehow avoiding serious collisions with other vehicles and pedestrians. The bus flattened lamp posts and sent garbage cans flying, then sideswiped a metal awning on the WCCO building that peeled the bus roof open like a can opener.
“We are suspecting that it was a medical condition” suffered by the driver that led to the crash, Metro Transit spokesman Drew Kerr said.
There were two other minor injuries reported in the incident: one passenger and a cyclist who was winged by the bus and suffered scrapes and bruises.
Shaken passengers said they realized something was wrong when the bus began to veer out of its lane, and the driver began to slide sideways in his seat.
Passenger Lawrence Boykins, of Minneapolis, was riding with his 11-year-old daughter and said he leapt to his feet to try to grab the wheel, but the bus crashed to a stop before he could reach the driver.
“I told my daughter ‘something’s wrong, something’s happening here,’ ” said Boykins, who walked away from the wreck with a twisted ankle and praise from his fellow passengers.
“He’s a hero,” said passenger Riley Coley, of Minneapolis, who had boarded the bus just one stop earlier, on his way to work.
When the bus started drifting, Coley said he thought the driver’s attention had simply wandered — until he saw the reflection in the mirror over the driver’s seat.
“We could see his eyes rolling back,” he said.
WCCO reported that meteorologist Mike Augustyniak was almost hit by the bus as he walked on the mall.
“You do a quick calculation: Do I run away or sneak by it?” Augustyniak told WCCO. “Because it was moving so slowly, I decided to run toward it and around it, but had to jump over some debris that was being pushed toward me.”
Down the block, a group of out-of-town visitors — Shriners in town for a convention — said they saw the bus roll through a red light at 10th Street, sideswipe the cyclist and crash to a stop on Peavey Plaza.
When the bus hit, “it sounded like a bomb going off,” said Sherwood Kaiser of Anderson, S.C.
Behind the yellow accident-scene tape, the city bus sat with its front window caved in, the cracked glass resembling spider webs, and large chunks of its side and roof gone. One of its side mirrors lay on the sidewalk half a block away, and a flattened lamp post was pinned on the ground under the bus.
Coley surveyed the damage and shook his head in wonder.
“It sounded like a tornado, when we hit,” he said, looking down at his hands. “I’m still shaking.”