Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Bus driver acquitted in crash that killed disabled woman

By Sharon Coolidge
The Cincinnati Enquirer

A Hamilton County judge said it was unclear what caused the bus accident that killed a disabled woman, and she acquitted the bus driver of manslaughter Tuesday.

Municipal Court Judge Karla Grady found Robert Baker, of Bethel, not guilty of vehicular manslaughter in the July crash on Wooster Pike that killed Tara Davis, 29.

Grady cited contradictory witness statements - Baker and another witness who said he swerved to miss a car, and another witness who said he could not see what happened - for her decision.

Baker, driving a Clermont County Connection minibus, was taking Davis and three other clients from their group home run by Clermont County's Board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities to swim when he crashed into a concrete trestle on U.S. 50. Davis was not wearing a seat belt and was thrown from the 14-passenger bus. The other passengers suffered injuries, but none was life-threatening. They were wearing seat belts.

Baker said Tuesday there was nothing he could do avoid the deadly collision.

"The accident happened so fast. If there was anything I could have done, I would have," Baker said.

Baker said he considered Davis a casual friend.

"She enjoyed riding the bus, she'd get on and help by collecting tickets," Baker said. "The only thing she wouldn't do was wear a seat belt."

Baker said he'd always encourage riders to wear them, but he said the Americans with Disabilities Act says he cannot force them to do so.

"It was a tragic accident, the loss of Tara, we'll feel that forever," said Verna Wiedenbein, administrator of the group home where she lived.

Baker, a retired Hamilton County Metro driver, said he's unsure whether he'll go back to work.

It may be time to retire, he said.


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