As the Duluth Transit Authority confronts its recent safety record, the bus operator involved in a fatal crash at the mall last week has been placed on administrative leave during the police investigation.
"It's standard operating procedure for us," Duluth Transit Authority spokesperson David Clark said Tuesday. "The conclusion of the investigation provides us with the prescription for what steps we take next."
A 64-year-old man from Duluth, David Weston, died Friday after he was struck by a DTA bus outside Miller Hill Mall, near Dick's Sporting Goods. Clark said the DTA "offered its deepest condolences" to Weston's friends and family.
Neither the DTA nor the Duluth Police Department would identify the driver during an "active and ongoing investigation," noted Duluth police spokeswoman Mattie Hjelseth.
The DTA was left to answer for its second pedestrian crash in two months.
"We bake safety into everything we do around here, and incidents like these are really hard to wrap your head around," Clark said.
The driver in an Aug. 20 pedestrian crash at 2402 W. Michigan St., Terry Lynn Kafka, 59, of Duluth, was let go by the DTA after she was cited and convicted for "failure to yield right of way to (a) pedestrian in (a) crosswalk."
Kafka, a 20-year DTA veteran, paid fines and fees worth $140 for the petty misdemeanor.
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"Ultimately, her service with DTA has been separated," Clark said.
A search of court records showed it was the second yield-related conviction on Kafka's record while operating a DTA bus. She was cited for a similar infraction, failure to yield for a vehicle or pedestrian, by Duluth police June 27, 2019, at 619 N. 59th Ave. W.
Her driver's license was suspended at one point during court proceedings for a failure to appear notification. She later paid $135 in fines and had to apply for reinstatement of her driver's license.
Clark explained Kafka was kept on as a driver after that incident following a full review of her employment history and performance.
"At the time, we felt it was the appropriate decision to continue employment," Clark said.
It's too soon to say if DTA policies will change with regard to keeping operators who experience infractions on their driving record.
"With the emergence of any patterns, we're always going to take a serious look at that with an eye toward safety," Clark said.
Clark noted the DTA's record when it came to what he called "collision frequency."
The rate the DTA reports to the National Transit Database has included preventable collision frequencies "as low as 0.6 per 100,000 miles traveled, which reflects a high performance metric," Clark said. "And over the past several years, we've averaged one or less of preventable collisions per 100,000 miles."
National transit data shows DTA operators cover more than 2 million miles of travel per year.
"We’re in the people business and the safety of those people that trust us with their transportation needs is at the forefront of what we’re doing," Clark said. "We take it very seriously, and we're committed to examining our operation and ensuring we do everything possible to prevent these types of situations."