The government must regulate private bus companies to protect the public by mandating proper background checks for new hires.
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A StatenJ Island bus company will pay $9.5 million to the estate of a surgical nurse fatally struck by a bus driven by an ex-con who had failed to disclose his lengthy rap sheet when he was hired, the Daily News has learned.
Rufus Jones hid his checkered past when he was hired by Atlantic Express Transportation as an $8-per-hour motor coach operator — 31 convictions, a life in and out of homelessness and a suspended New Jersey driver’s license.
Lawyers for Angela Reid argued Jones should never have been driving the 50,000-pound express bus when he hit her on Jan. 21, 2009, as she walked to work at New York University’s Langone Medical Center. A witness said Jones ran a red light at 34th St. and Madison Ave., crushing Reid beneath the bus’ wheels.
Reid, 34, the mother of two boys, died three months later of the internal injuries she suffered and infection that set in after undergoing skin grafts, surgeries and the amputation of her right leg.
“There is no way Jones should have been entrusted with the responsibility of driving a bus,” said Reid’s lawyer, Sanford Rubenstein.
“The government, on a federal and state level, must further regulate private bus companies so the public is protected against companies hiring drivers without a proper background check, without appropriate training and qualifications,” Rubenstein added.
In March, another tour bus driver with a criminal past, Ophadell Williams, crashed on a Bronx highway, killing 15 passengers. Williams has been indicted for manslaughter. A report by the state inspector general criticized the oversight system that failed to catch Williams’ criminal history and past license suspensions.
Rubenstein and law partner Scott Rynecki said that if tougher legislation is passed, it should be could be called “Angela’s Law” in memory of Reid.
Jones told The News he is “remorseful and devastated” about Reid’s death, but insisted his criminal past had nothing to do with his driving ability. “I never hurt nobody,” he said. “What I did when I was 28, 29 years old — and I’m 54 now — that had nothing to do with what I’m doing now.”
Atlantic Express safety compliance officer Ronald Caruso testified in a deposition that he was unaware Jones had at least 31 criminal convictions. Records show some were for drug raps. An Atlantic Express statement said the company maintains a zero-tolerance policy for drivers who violate government rules and its own “rigid and strong safety protocols.”
Yet two months before the accident, Jones got a speeding ticket for driving an empty bus 73 mph in a 50-mph zone in Staten Island. Atlantic Express took no disciplinary action. Jones claimed he was unaware his New Jersey license was suspended. His New York license was valid at the time of the accident.
The Atlantic Express statement added: “While in our employ prior to this tragic accident, our former driver had not failed any drug or alcohol tests.” A drug test administered by the NYPD after the accident was negative. But Jones failed a random drug test in 2010 and was fired.