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Oregonian: TriMet settles Austin Miller death for $200,000

Posted by on April 8th, 2009 at 11:47 am

“TriMet’s agreement to pay the maximum amount of damages that TriMet believes it owes proves that Austin’s death was the result of a bus driver’s carelessness.”
— Stephanie Miller, Austin Miller’s mother

The Oregonian’s Aimee Green is reporting that Austin Miller’s parents have reached a settlement with TriMet for $200,000.

Austin Miller died on February 11, 2008 (at the age of 15) when he and a TriMet bus collided near the intersection of SW Murray and SW Farmington Road in Beaverton.

Here’s a snip from The O:

Story continues below


bikes and buses

The settlement comes as vindication for the parents of Austin Miller, who had agonized over a Beaverton police investigation that eventually concluded the boy made a right-hand turn without stopping and crashed into the side of the bus as it pulled to a stop…

Police investigator Jeffrey M. DeBolt concluded two months later that “this crash was unavoidable” for the driver.

The Oregonian goes on to report that the attorney for Austin’s parents “proved that Mann [the bus operator] saw Miller before she struck him and that she could have avoided hitting him with the bus as she crossed into the bike lane.”

“I thought I gave (him) enough room, and I was pulling over to stop,” Mann told a TriMet dispatcher, seconds after the accident.

And here’s what Stephanie Miller (Austin’s mom) said in a news release this morning:

“TriMet’s agreement to pay the maximum amount of damages that TriMet believes it owes proves that Austin’s death was the result of a bus driver’s carelessness…Nothing will bring Austin back, but we hope that this settlement will heighten public awareness of the need to respect bicyclists riding in their bike lanes.”

In April of 2008, the Beaverton Police Department found no facts to support that the bus operator committed any criminal or traffic violations in the collision. Austin’s parents were disappointed in the investigation and filed a $2 million lawsuit against TriMet in June 2008.

Austin’s death raised questions about the safety of the intersection and it led to series of bike safety initiatives between TriMet and the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA).

— See our past coverage of the Austin Miller crash in the archives.

[Thanks to reader Todd P. for the heads up on this story.]

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  • metal cowboy April 8, 2009 at 12:21 pm

    It’s good to see some vindication for the parents. I hope it raises more awareness. Austin should have gotten a longer run on this planet. To his memory.

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  • Nicholas April 8, 2009 at 12:25 pm

    I live and commute through downtown everyday. I know for a fact that the bus drivers could care less about us bikers having been forced suddenly into emergency stops or onto sidewalks many of times. The scariest thing for me anywhere is the buses anymore. That being said, I’m very sorry for the Miller’s loss. Maybe though it can be used as some information to get the bus drivers out there to stop treating bicyclist as shit and recklessly zoom in front of them to slam on their brakes causing near collisions all the time?

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  • Mitch Conner April 8, 2009 at 12:33 pm

    This is horrible and all, but I don’t think the parents are really owed anything. I’m no fan of the way that bus drivers drive around the city, but the kid failed to stop and paid the price. Sad, but tragedy shouldn’t mean an automatic settlement.

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  • NB April 8, 2009 at 12:46 pm

    What is wrong with the people who read and comment at the Oregonian site? Everything becomes a question of who was really at fault, why people don’t want to pay for other people’s mistakes, factions vs. other factions, and blaming back and forth. Can nothing just be an *accident* that is very tragic, that we can all take a moment to be sad about and reflect upon so as to avoid further accidents? Reading the Oregonian’s comment section makes me sick.

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  • Mike April 8, 2009 at 1:41 pm

    I agree with your sentiment, but it is really hard for it to be treated as just an accident when the parents are suing for $2M.
    It’s not just the commenters trying to assign or deflect blame.

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  • KJ April 8, 2009 at 2:11 pm

    To be fair to other road users too, buses also do that to cars. Before I startedbiking for transportation, I HATED driving anywhere near a bus. I respect transit, I love that we have it, but man, IMHO, bus drivers can be major traffic bullies.
    I realise this only applies to the bus drivers who are bullies, as many bus drivers are awesome and totally aware of me on my bike. I have had many positive bike/bus road sharing experinces. More than I have had car/bus ones actually…but I am sure time will change that.

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  • NB April 8, 2009 at 2:15 pm

    I understand that, but the commenters invoke moral indignation and hystrionics that are really out of line. This is not something specific to the story about Austin Miller (who is being called an out of control bicyclist and whose parents are being called “social parasites”), but rather seems to happen with all of their stories. (Eg, the woman whose estranged husband shot all five of their children and them himself when she left him was blamed for their deaths because of her leaving her husband.) However, I seem to notice it more when bicyclists are concerned! (Eg, Tracy Sparling was described as being at fault when she was killed – even though she clearly, in the legal sense, was not – and was said to be stupid and that she deserved to be killed by that truck!) Etc. etc. etc. The Oregonian is crap.

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  • Joe April 8, 2009 at 3:17 pm

    still sad about this, get chills everytime it come up here.

    also the fact that people look at fault
    on the cyclist side blows my mind. don’t want to die in vain with someone thats driving a big object, blaming!

    This was a young man, I remember every
    falling rider, and i ride for you everyday.

    in Wilsonville

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  • Todd Boulanger April 8, 2009 at 4:56 pm

    Too bad Trimet does not [yet] have forward facing cameras on the buses like CTRAN does. (It has helped traffic crash reconstruction up here.)

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  • Bret April 9, 2009 at 6:49 am

    Sorry, but all things point to the kid as controlling his destiny. Hello. It’s a bus and busses make frequent stops. The mom is foolish to not put any blame on his death. As sad as it is, it is another example of how a serious of mistakes made by a cyclist can lead to very bad things.

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  • Brian E April 9, 2009 at 7:59 am

    Will the Beaverton Police comment on results of this settlement? Did the Beaverton Police make a mistake or did they not fully understand what was involved with their investigation?

    “Police investigator Jeffrey M. DeBolt concluded two months later that “this crash was unavoidable” for the driver.”

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  • vincentpaul April 9, 2009 at 8:36 am

    To reply #10 above. I find it understandable that a mother does not want to put blame on her son after his death. As a former attorney, what I find most interesting is the low figure on the settlement. Even should the court find that Tri-Met is not covered by the government tort limitation laws, the total settlement is only $375,000. That may seem like a lot, but it’s WAY LOW for a wrongful death action. That’s basically an offer of Tri-Mets attorneys’ fees and expenses in this type of case. I’m inferring that those who possessed the most knowledge of the available evidence believed that there was a significant likelihood that a jury would not render a verdict favorable to the family. Just my thoughts.

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  • ME 2 April 9, 2009 at 11:30 am

    To #3 and #10,

    Take a look at this link posted on the O’s site. http://blog.oregonlive.com/news_impact/2009/04/metjpeg

    The bus driver told her dispatcher that she saw him in the bike lane on Farmington Rd. before crossing over the bike lane to the bus stop. Miller performing a right turn on the red light at Murray Rd. did not directly result in his death. The bus driver’s error did. Is this so hard to understand?

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  • wsbob April 9, 2009 at 10:10 pm

    I just read the O story:

    Parents win settlement in bicycle death of their 15-year-old son

    “Elden Rosenthal, the Portland attorney who represented Stephanie and Mike Miller, said he presented TriMet with statements from the bus driver, who said she saw Miller riding parallel to the bus along Farmington Road. She could have avoided hitting him as she crossed the bike lane, Rosenthal said.” O story

    “According to a police report written by Officer Jessica Hull shortly after the accident, driver Sandy Mann said she was stopped at a red light on Farmington at Murray. She said she noticed a cyclist riding along Murray. After she drove the bus through the intersection, she saw Miller pedaling next to the bus along Farmington.

    A passenger signaled for a stop, and Mann began to pull over, thinking she had left Miller enough clearance, according to Hull’s police report.

    “I thought I gave (him) enough room,” Mann told a TriMet dispatcher, seconds after the accident. “O story

    In the days following the incident, I read everything I could get my hands on about this collision, including the police report. I don’t remember ever reading a statement to the effect that the driver said she saw Miller in the bike lane on Farmington Rd. It just never made much sense to me how Miller could wind up under the bus if he collided with it straight on while traveling on the MUP adjacent to Murray.

    What the driver initially said to the officer on scene shortly after the collision makes sense. The driver cut across his direction of travel after he’d already turned.

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  • dreams15 April 10, 2009 at 8:57 am

    wsbob – that’s it. Finally, someone who gets it. This was the basis of the suit – to show that the TriMet driver had some, if not most accountability in this accident in order to inact positive change.

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  • Shawna April 10, 2009 at 11:45 am

    For anyone who wants to keep blaming this on Austin Miller, please read AO’s comments and re-read the Oregonian story. Even the bus driver now admits that Austin was parallel to the bus when he was hit. Whether or not he fully stopped at the red light has about as much bearing on the situation as what he did ten minutes before . . . unless his actions so offended the driver that she felt justified somehow cutting him off to “teach him a lesson”. That’s completely unfair speculation, and I’m not suggesting it’s what happened in this case. But I have heard enough anti-bike rants from Tri-Met drivers when I’ve been a passenger on buses, that I really wonder what she was thinking before she hit him.

    Right after Austin was killed, my bandmate showed up to our band practice visibly upset because she had earlier been on a Belmont bus driven by a woman who was loudly leading a group rant about cyclists. This bus driver was actively negotiating along the street with a cyclist in the bike line ahead of the bus, and she was basically commenting to her passengers about what a “jerk” he was, and how someday he would get what was “coming to him.” My friend said the cyclist was actually behaving very normally and legally, but his simple presence on the same stretches of street seemed to be what upset the driver. The cyclist was apparently a “jerk” because he would pull ahead of the bus for stretches of time before being passed, then he would pass the bus again—in the bike lane— when it stopped. Yeah. Boy. What a jerk!

    Some of the people driving for TriMet have the same temperament and attitude toward cyclists that a lot of aggressive car drivers do.

    It’s natural to be remorseful for a mistaken action after the fact. It takes a bigger person, more compassion for other road users, and more forethought to avoid these mistakes in the first place.

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  • wsbob April 12, 2009 at 12:20 am

    dreams15…thanks. The police investigators inquiries and findings related to his investigation of the incident and his opinion on the incident are troubling.

    (“DeBolt, the officer who concluded Miller was at fault, stands by his findings. He said the version of events Mann gave to Hull didn’t match that of witnesses, so he decided to re-interview Mann three weeks after the accident. Mann changed her story to say she never saw Miller in the bike lane on Farmington Road — he was still pedaling along Murray as she drove through the intersection.

    “In my experience of dealing with someone who has witnessed a sudden traumatic event, their memory is scattered” immediately afterward, DeBolt said.

    During a deposition with Rosenthal 11 months after the accident, Mann confirmed her original story, then said she had misspoken and retold the story she told DeBolt. (O story, link above in comment #14) )

    What’s going on here with the driver’s account of things? Gives an account of the incident, confirms that same account 11 months later, then somehow, the story gets changed to concur with “…the story she told DeBolt”. Did the driver give her apparently different story to Debolt around the time he conducted his investigation (two months after the collision)?

    This excerpt from the O story is notable too:

    “A passenger signaled for a stop, and Mann began to pull over, thinking she had left Miller enough clearance, according to Hull’s police report.” O story

    If you read the full O story, you’ll see that this statement follows the writer’s comments that the driver said she had seen Miller pedaling next to the bus on Farmington. So where exactly in relation to the intersection did the passenger signal for the bus to stop? This seems critical to me, because it has to do with when the driver would have put bus turn signals on indicating a turn across the bike lane to the bus stop turnout on Farmington, and whether or not Miller would have been able to see them in time to stop or change his direction of travel so as to avoid having the bus collide with him.

    If the driver had received the passengers signal about midway across the intersection, it might have meant that she could have put the bus turn signals on far enough in advance for Miller to see them before turning onto the bikepath on Farmington.

    Many people are aware of how dangerous the configuration incorporating bus turn-out and bike lane is at this intersection. Some people were probably aware of that danger before this tragedy happened.

    Within that intersection, these sightings, signals and critical movements of vehicles and passengers are happening within split seconds. It’s a disaster that had been waiting to happen, and Austin Miller, the kid with much promise, on a bike, pedaling home from school turned out to be the unfortunate guy the disaster of that intersection’s design descended on.

    There was a letter to the editor in the Saturday 11th Oregonian that reminds of the dangers of this intersection and chides parties that may have something to do with corrections to this intersection’s design not have been made before a disaster occurred (I searched the O’s website for that letter but could not find it…think it’s by a person named Fred).

    It seems as if state, county, municipality, or property owners continue to decline to step forward and correct this dangerous confluence of bike and bus direction of travel. Will concerned citizens, stepping forth in protest with shovel and rake to build a safe bike path on Murray and around the bus turn-out on Farmington be the only way this deathtrap intersection can be promptly fixed?

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