Archive for Thursday, July 8, 2010

Expert witness says Cat Tracker had several defects that led to fatal accident on Iowa Street

Officers from the Lawrence Police Department investigate the scene of an injury accident at 15th and Iowa streets involving the Cat Tracker bus. John Green was fatally injured and another seriously injured in the accident on Saturday, November 18, 2006.

Officers from the Lawrence Police Department investigate the scene of an injury accident at 15th and Iowa streets involving the Cat Tracker bus. John Green was fatally injured and another seriously injured in the accident on Saturday, November 18, 2006.

July 8, 2010, 1:36 p.m. Updated July 8, 2010, 3:36 p.m.


Fan bus had safety defects

The Cat Tracker bus associated with K-State fans has several safety defects, according to reports from an ongoing civil trial. A man died in 2006 while riding the bus in Lawrence. Enlarge video

The Cat Tracker bus that 27-year-old John Green was riding when his head struck an overpass had several design features that were unsafe, according to testimony in the second day of a civil trial stemming from the fatal accident in 2006.

The testimony came from Ned Einstein, who testified as an expert witness Thursday morning for the plaintiff’s side in Douglas County District Court. He is president of Transportation Alternatives, a New York City consulting firm involved in a variety of aspects of mass transit.

Einstein identified design features of the bus as it existed in October 2004. Plaintiff’s attorneys had earlier called a vehicle title inspector who created a report showing a Briggs Auto Group-owned entity had owned the Cat Tracker bus at that time.

Among the unsafe features Einstein identified:

• The “most critical” of the problems was that modifications were made to a school bus chassis, rather than to a bus with a lower-floor chassis. Einstein said such buses — like some transit buses — were widely available for purchase at the time. If a lower-floor chassis bus were modified, it could have been three feet lower in height, Einstein said.

“If this were built on a lower chassis, even with all the other defects, this accident would never have happened,” he said.

• A door to the back deck of the bus was not locked. Einstein said this allowed passengers to move to the back deck of the bus at will.

• On the open-air back deck of the bus, a ladder provided easy access to the roof deck of the bus, Einstein said. He said that ladder should have been secured away while the bus was in motion.

Deadly consequences

Green and another man, Chris Orr, were struck by the Irving Hill Road overpass over Iowa Street while standing on the roof deck of the Cat Tracker bus as it traveled to a Kansas University-Kansas State University football game on Nov. 18, 2006. Green died instantly and was forced over the railing onto the lower deck of the bus. Orr was critically injured.

Green’s widow, Samantha Green, filed suit against nearly a dozen defendants, including the owners, operators and manufacturers of the bus. All but one — Briggs Auto Group of Manhattan — have settled out of court.

An engineering expert called by the plaintiff’s attorneys on Thursday placed the speed of the bus between about 20 to 30 mph at various times as it approached the overpass.

The expert, Steven Schorr, an engineer at DJS Associates in Pennsylvania, said that if John Green, who was 6-foot-1-inch tall, had been standing straight at his full height while on the roof deck, he would have been 10 inches higher than the 15-foot high overpass.

Attorneys for Briggs Auto Group peppered Einstein’s testimony with objections and other questions, which were settled in bench conferences with the judge. The witness, however, was allowed to present his opinions on a range of topics, including whether the seller of the vehicle had a responsibility to ensure its safety.

“The seller has a duty to safeguard the public if design characteristics of the vehicle present a safety issue,” Einstein said.

Other issues

In cross-examination, defense attorney Larry Tyrl asked about Einstein’s compensation from the plaintiff’s side, which paid about $50,000 to Einstein and an associated billing company, according to invoices. Tyrl also questioned Einstein’s education, including a bachelor’s degree in English literature and a master’s degree in urban and regional planning.

Tyrl also asked about a number of others responsible for things Einstein concluded were wrong with the bus.

Einstein agreed that others were at least partially responsible for many of the issues, including people like Robert Pottroff, who owned the bus in November 2006.

Among the witnesses who took the stand late Thursday afternoon, a Briggs Auto Group employee testified about the detailed paperwork regarding the sale and titling of the 1988 bus.

Connie Kipp confirmed the paperwork showed the Manhattan auto dealer owned the bus until Oct. 22, 2004. In opening statements, Tyrl told jurors the bus had been given away as a gift to Pottroff as a 50th birthday gift on Aug. 17, 2003.

Also, jurors watched a videotaped deposition from Steve Johnson, a Lawrence resident who often rode the Cat Tracker to away Kansas State University football games.

Johnson said he had been on the bus on multiple trips to Columbia, Mo., Lincoln, Neb. and Ames, Iowa, and that it was customary to ride on the top level through the streets of an opposing team’s hometown. Johnson described on each trip a “duck man” was appointed to warn others about overhead obstacles. Johnson said every time he’d been on the bus, he had heard someone shout, “duck.”

Testimony in the case resumes this morning.


gphawk89 7 years ago

"The bus had no posted warnings that told people not to be on the roof of the bus while it was moving."

"Please do not jump off this bridge to the rocks below." "Please do not stick a screwdriver in this outlet." "Please do not run through this plate glass window." "Please do not stick this pencil in your eye."

Where does it end?

ksjayhawk74 7 years ago

for a fair comparison it would have to be...

A bridge with an open ramp that you can fall down if you walk too close

An outlet that has prongs sticking out

A plate glass window that shatters if you touch it

A pencil that shoots lead when it's pointed upward.

calwt262 7 years ago

I can't wait for the testimony of the defense's expert witness Mr. Mainway comparing the safety standards of the Cat Tracker to that of his well known products "Johnny Space Commander" and "Bag-o-broken glass".

Mike Hatch 7 years ago

Don't forget the Pretty Peggy Earpiercing kit.

calwt262 7 years ago

Ha! I had forgotten about that gem.

thebigspoon 7 years ago

"The seller has a duty to safeguard the public if design characteristics of the vehicle present a safety issue,” Einstein said.

It seems to me that the witness should be enjoined form stating legal opinions. He was presented as an expert in vehicle construction, not an attorney or jury. Why was this testimony allowed, let alone reported? Looks as if Briggs is in trouble if the judge allows this type of thing to go on.

bendover61 7 years ago

The bridge builder had to know that defective buses would be going underneath the bridge, I say that they are at fault and the university since the bridge connects daisy hill with west campus. Also, if there had not been a game that day he may have survived, so both schools are at fault.

They have only begun to determine who is at fault.

ksjayhawk74 7 years ago

Don't be ridiculous. Every other vehicle that has ever gone by that bridge has been able to make it through without killing someone.

The Cat Tracker couldn't make it through 1 trip without killing someone...

jewelblake 7 years ago

actually it had made several prior trips without killing someone

ksjayhawk74 7 years ago

...couldn't make 1 trip under the overpass.

Maddy Griffin 7 years ago

I guess common sense really isn't all that common.

OldEnuf2BYurDad 7 years ago

Sorry, but I'm with the witness on this. It would be an assumption I would make: this bus will "fit" under standard-height bridges. Semi trailers rarely have problems with bridges, so why would that bus?

And, no sign warning that the modifications were not sufficiently safe. I'm totally with the plaintiff on that.

bender 7 years ago

The bus fit, it was the people standing on the roof that did not. Semis rarely have problems with underpasses because the rarely have people standing on them.

Ron Holzwarth 7 years ago

If you head east on I-70 through downtown St. Louis, you pass under a bridge that is lower than 15 feet clearance. There is a lot of damage to that bridge from semis colliding with it, although it is well posted. I always watch for it and kind of smile. A bit later, maybe a quarter mile, there is another indetical bridge - but without the collision problems. The first bridge takes care of that!

nonbeliverofprint 7 years ago

Semis know how tall their trailers are and bridges have their heights posted on them. Maps also have warnings of low bridges so truck drivers know when to go another route.

bd 7 years ago

Briggs has the most money so why not go after him!

The lawyers, Doctors and Liberals will distroy this country!

Tea anyone!

BigAl 7 years ago

Liberals? Manhattan? I don't think so.

james bush 7 years ago

Don't forget liberal university professors also can help destroy......

Kelly Johnson 7 years ago

If it is illegal to ride in the back of a moving pickup truck, wouldn't it also make sense that it's illegal to ride on the top level open-air deck of a modified school bus?

Does anyone know if there is a specific law to this effect?

It's really kinda scary that this lawsuit involves a defendant who didn't have ownership of the bus and hadn't for quite some time.

BlackVelvet 7 years ago

Are there seatbelts for the passengers who sit on the top level? If so, I'd think the bus was "in compliance" is up to the passengers to have at least an ounce of common sense though.

overthemoon 7 years ago

hard to use seatbelts when you're standing up. that's the thing, what the heck were people doing standing up on top of a moving bus? If it had stopped quickly, there would have been far more injuries.

beawolf 7 years ago

If your going to allow passengers access to the upper deck you had better post warnings and/or block access when in transport. Neither of which occurred. How high or low the bus was is irrelevant. The bus was built/modified for this purpose. If this was not a modified bus and he climbed on top, was struck and killed, then you would have the "this bag is not a toy" argument.

ivalueamerica 7 years ago

I never understood the fear of holding someone accountable for making an usafe product.

Clearly there is no doubt that the drunk fool holds the MAJORITY of the blame for what happened, but crimeny folks, the bus accepted drunk fools and put them in an open top moving vehicle without any thought of the consequences.

The bus and the driver were not fully compliant with the law and made a bad situation worse.

That is why in cases like this they generally assign a percentage of blame.

I would imagine in this case the blame would go something like a 2-3 million dollar judgement for the accident with 80% blame going to the stupid drunk and 20% going to the bus company, leaving a $200,000 settlement to the estate.

IF that is the case, then the court does hold the man mostly respondible for his actions.

ksjayhawk74 7 years ago

Exactly. No matter who the driver was and no matter what their state of intoxication was, a person standing on the top of the vehicle still would have been killed.

The Cat Tacker people should be suing Briggs too for selling them a vehicle that got someone killed and another seriously injured.

nonbeliverofprint 7 years ago

"The expert, Steven Schorr, an engineer at DJS Associates in Pennsylvania, said that if John Green, who was 6-foot-1-inch tall, had been standing straight at his full height while on the roof deck, he would have been 10 inches higher than the 15-foot high overpass."

So my guess is that the bus was modified for people to "sit" on top while in motion. If he was sitting then he wouldn't have hit the bridge. I'm sure it was not modified for "standing" while in motion.

jewelblake 7 years ago

the injured and killed in this case were shown NOT to be drunk at the time of the accident...

jafs 7 years ago

Apparently the driver allowed more people than the bus was supposed to hold, thus forcing some onto the top deck.

day 7 years ago

Old Enuf:

There wasn't any problem with the design of the top deck itself at all. The bus DID fit under the bridge. It was the head of the victim, some two to three feet above the top of the deck railing that didn't fit.

A six foot tall man standing on the top of a semi trailer wouldn't have fit either. The question is did Briggs/the current owner design enough safety features into the bus to prevent, someone from getting up there while the bus was in motion. It seems to me that responsibility resides with the owner not the builder. If someone crawled on top of a semi truck and got scraped off on a bridge we wouldn't blame Peterbuilt.

ksjayhawk74 7 years ago

You could sue Peterbuilt if they made the semi truck with seats on top of the trailer and a ladder that easily let you walk up there when the truck was moving.

Ron Holzwarth 7 years ago

Splitting hairs here: Peterbuilt only builds the cabs. The trailers are from another manufacturer.

Jonathan Becker 7 years ago

And Peterbilts and their trailers do not have places for people to stand/sit on top of them. . . .

BlackVelvet 7 years ago

"...we wouldn't blame Peterbuilt." Are you sure about that? This IS Douglas County/Lawrence, Kansas after all.

OldEnuf2BYurDad 7 years ago

Semis are not built with the intention that someone will be on top of them. That bus WAS built with the intention of allowing people up on top, but without any warnings about clearance. A Peterbuilt doesn't NEED those warnings because it's understood that the top of the semi is NOT a "second deck".

yourworstnightmare 7 years ago

The defects were that it had a patio on the roof with a ladder up the the patio on the back.

Honestly, no one forced the people to sit on top while the bus was moving. This was clearly dangerous, and my guess is they were advised to not do it.

Even if they were not advised, this seems like a case of bad judgment on the part of the rider, a sane adult, and not the fault of Cat tracker. Clogging up the court system with a frivolous and unsupported lawsuit.

EMAW! Every mildcat a wanker!

fan4kufootball 7 years ago

I believe it is only illegal for children under a certain age to ride in the back of a pick up which is stupid since it is now illegal to drive a vehicle without a seatbelt.

I think people need to have some degree of responsibility for themselves. This suing others for something you could have prevented yourself with a little common sense is getting ridiculous.

Yes - its hurts to lose someone we love and depended on and I can sympathize with that but this type of lawsuit has to stop.

jehovah_bob 7 years ago

It does not make you an expert just because your name is Einstein.

ksjayhawk74 7 years ago

"He is president of Transportation Alternatives, a New York City consulting firm involved in a variety of aspects of mass transit."

That's the part that makes him an expert.

calwt262 7 years ago

Products liability has transformed quite a bit since 1985. In the movie Teenwolf Michael J. Fox was surfing on top of Stiles' "wolfmobile" as they rolled-up to a house party. Thank God Stiles was a partier and didn't excel in autobody class, otherwise Michael J. Fox may have gone the way of Brandon Lee.

jewelblake 7 years ago

this is not a products liability case, it's a wrongful death case!

day 7 years ago

Posters keep refering to "sitting" on the top deck. If you look closely at some of the photos you will see that there aren't any seats up there at all. It is a giant open deck. It's designed for most if not all of the riders to climb up on during the tailgate party. You would have to be crazy to think riding down Iowa street at 40 mph up there is a good idea.

It seems to me the current owner, who has already settled out of court, could be in some trouble. The driver allowed people up there when he should have known that it was a bad idea.

On the other hand I don't see how Briggs could be held responsible for the new owner using the bus in a way it clearly wasn't intended for.

Ron Holzwarth 7 years ago

No, the current owner is not in some trouble. He's already settled out of court, so he's now out of this picture.

I think Briggs believes they are going to win this case, so why settle out of court?

Ron Holzwarth 7 years ago

I've been reading all the articles, and maybe I missed something.

There's all this talk about who owned the bus when, but have there been any statements about who exactly did the modifications? A spokesman for Briggs Auto Group made the claim that Briggs did not do them, but that was it.

Ron Holzwarth 7 years ago

Here's a clip and paste of that claim:

But Briggs’ attorney Larry Tyrl said the bus was given away as a 50th birthday present on Aug. 17, 2003.

“Briggs Auto Group is not in the business of fabricating, converting, re-manufacturing buses and selling them,” Tyrl said during his opening statements.

frankfussman 7 years ago

Of course, this accident would not have happened if the driver had turned east or west on 15th Street and avoided the bridge across Iowa altogether. He either did not know about the bridge, or didn't know someone was on the upper deck, or had other plans. Or didn't know the specifications of the bus.

jehovah_bob 7 years ago

I believe they were going North on Iowa, they hadn't reached 15th yet.

ksjayhawk74 7 years ago

Crazy that some many posters here think that a company should have no responsibilities for their actions...

If a company makes, sells or operates a vehicle that gets someone killed and someone else seriously injured because of it's design, then yes they are liable.

BigAl 7 years ago

Motorhomes travel daily under that bridge. Motorhomes also have ladders that go to their tops and they have railings around that top. People sit up there during various functions but personal responsibility tells people NOT to ride on top of motor homes. My brother has a Winnebago with a ladder going to the roof. There are no signs anywhere saying not to ride on the roof. What's the difference?

Personal responsibility is lacking.

Ron Holzwarth 7 years ago

Thre is a small difference - you cannot access the ladder to the roof from the interior of the motorhome while the Winnebago is in motion.

ksjayhawk74 7 years ago

Also, they don't build chairs on the top that are meant to sit in while the vehicle is in motion.

bendover61 7 years ago

The bus fit under the bridge, the idiot on top did not. End of story.

Mike George 7 years ago

My comment isn't meant to address whether the bus owner or builder were at fault. I can only speak to the state of responsibility of those on top of the bus. My wife and I were behind the bus at 23rd and Iowa, waiting for the light to turn left, and there were four gentlemen on top of the bus at that time, all drinking and kicking beer cans off the deck. Someone drove alongside the bus and leaned out the window of their SUV and obviously made a derogatory comment about the situation or KSU - who knows - this was met with an immediate reaction of everyone on top flipping the other driver off and shouting insults about KU that we DID hear. They continued hoisting their beer cans, exposing their middle fingers and shouting as the light turned red and they drove around the corner, headed north toward the accident scene. We turned off on 21st and luckily missed the accident. My point is that the gentlemen on top at that time were working on getting more impaired, plus concentrating on things behind the bus, like KU fans they could wave at with single digits. Hardly a crew of careful passengers.

BigAl 7 years ago

Kind of goes towards personal responsibility. But somehow, we want to blame the person that sold this bus several years before the tragedy.
Great post hawkbuilder. Thanks for the insight.

Ron Holzwarth 7 years ago

"the gentlemen on top at that time were working on getting more impaired, plus concentrating on things behind the bus, like KU fans they could wave at with single digits."

They were obviously very mature adults. I wonder how many children saw that, and I hope it's brought up in court.

I can hear it now, "Mommy, what does that mean?"

Ron Holzwarth 7 years ago

Another thought comes to mind - the day his posthumous daughter learns exactly how her late father died directly from her mother, or from reading the court report.

She will learn that her father was drinking and flipping off the vehicles behind the bus, instead of looking to see where the bus was going.

What a way to remember your father!

Mike George 7 years ago the light turned GREEN and.......

apologies about the previous error

ksjayhawk74 7 years ago

I don't think you can sue someone for getting killed.

Scruggsy 7 years ago

Another ridiculous case clogging up the system and wasting $$$. The life insurance should be all that applies. Anyone who made the stupid decision to get up there and not even look for a bridge, well, that's what can happen... The prior owners of the bus can not have any liability in this whatsoever in my opinion.

Evan Ridenour 7 years ago

Seems like almost all of that is due to operator errors not actual flaws in the design. Operator shouldn't have let people up there, operator should have locked door, operator shouldn't have overloaded bus. Operator should have kicked the drunk idiots off the bus because they were acting in a dangerous manner.

Briggs wasn't operating the bus or had any ownership interest correct?

Money grab suit. Sorry you got injured or your relative got killed but they were standing on top of a moving bus... seriously... this is darwinism at work.

InspectorJo 7 years ago

Excellent example BigAl. People must use common sense!

Ron Holzwarth 7 years ago

chorus from "Low Bridge" By Thomas S. Allen

Low bridge, everybody down Low bridge for we're coming to a town And you'll always know your neighbor And you'll always know your pal If you've ever navigated on the Erie Canal.....

Jeremiah Jefferson 7 years ago

You know, its a terrible thing that happened to the man who got killed. If anyone is to blame it would be the cop who saw that bus pass by with people on top of it and didnt do anything. As previosly mentioned, it is illegal to ride in the back of a pick up, so why wouldn't it be to to ride on top of a bus. Way I see it, it was a terrible accident. Let it go.

KEITHMILES05 7 years ago

There was a "duck" man who yelled "duck".............sorry, but that is pretty funny. So,if the person yelling "duck" did in fact yell that and the deceased and injured failed to heed the command then whose fault is it?

I find it very disturbing the family is not acknowleding they have a huge share of responsibility in this accident. To point blame at others while your own actions contribute is hard to understand.

trinity 7 years ago

i so totally agree with your second paragraph! and you're about the first poster i noticed (granted i skimmed quickly through) that even mentioned there was a designated "quacker", usually, on the bus who'd warn of approaching obstacles. as sad as this was-acknowledgement of how utterly stupid it is, to be standing on top of a rolling vehicle, period.

Mike George 7 years ago

I read in the other story that several of the folks who had spent time on top of the bus stated that they might have had a few beers earlier in the day. My wife and I witnessed beer cans being kicked off that deck at 23rd & Iowa as we waited to turn left behind the bus that day, and I can state that there was still constant beer drinking going on up top - any attempts to downplay that activity are dishonest at best.

Ron Holzwarth 7 years ago

"they might have had a few beers earlier in the day"

Ya think? Well, maybe they were to drunk to remember for sure.

Mike George 7 years ago

I don't see any posts where anyone has come out and said this, but I think all of you folks know that the reason they are in court with Briggs is that Briggs has deep pockets. You only need to watch the liability lawyers advertise on TV to know that they go where the rewards are potentially the greatest.

Ron Holzwarth 7 years ago

It's been mentioned a couple times, but maybe not on this particluar thread.

One of the differences in the lawsuit process between here and Great Briton is that the contingency fee basis ( 30% to 50% of the judgment as a fee, and there is no fee if the case is lost), is illegal there.

So, if you think you have a case in Great Briton, you hire a barrister and sue. But, you need to do that knowing full well that if you lose, you pay the lawyers on both sides. It's known as the "loser pay" system.

Product liability insurace is much cheaper in Great Briton, and there are not nearly so many lawsuits, because people only sue if they are quite sure they are going to win. And, they can lose everything they have if they lose.

But the chances of that system ever being the law here in the United States is somewhere between slim and none, because the House of Representatives and the Senate are packed with lawyers that "earned" their money that way.

Ron Holzwarth 7 years ago

I'm scared to death to drive my two ton 5 star crash rated vehicle in town on game days, so I stay at home if at all possible. There are to many drunks, and to many crazy drivers out there!

I can't even imagine riding on top of a bus like the cat tracker! And - not even a seat belt!

But, everyone's fears are colored by thier own experiences. Once, when I was quite young, I was riding on the top of a hay stack that was being hauled down a country road.

At the very last possible split second, I saw it coming - a high tension electric wire was crossing the road directly ahead of me. I ducked barely in time, and heard the strangest whistling sound as it passed by, only inches from my head.

Ever since that moment, I've been very aware of the unexpected that can happen when you are riding way up in the air, and I avoided it whenever possible after that.

storm 7 years ago

Walking around on top of a bus? Better call Saul!

Steve Bunch 7 years ago

If the duck man failed to quack, I think he should be held accountable, too.

fan4kufootball 7 years ago

It sounds like to me that the bus upper deck was designed for parked partying or tailgating - there was not any seats up there for "in-motion" transporting of people. So the design of the bus should not even be in question. Its more the responsibility of the bus operator and the people on the bus making common sense decisions. I think when the defense gets to take the stand this type of things will be brought out in court.

rgh 7 years ago

As a KU fan I don't have a problem with the bus. The driver should have had the only key to unlock the back door and the riders should have signed a waiver not be on top at any time while the bus was in motion. I am very very sorry for this tragic accident for them and their families but this suit shouldn't hold merit since grown men choose to go on top while the bus was in motion and knew that even if there wasn't a bridge, they could have fallen if they were in an accident or had to swerve. God bless their families who have to life without a husband, father, uncle, cousin, etc., etc.

domino 7 years ago

As a child, did your mom ever tell you some verson of "If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you jump too?" We were taught to take care of and think for ourselves. My heart breaks for this widow and little girl who will grow up without her daddy. It isn't their fault he is gone, however, neither do I think that it is this companies or anyone elses fault other than the man who died.

Ron Holzwarth 7 years ago

Judging from the posts in here, and assuming they are representative of the jury, it sure looks like Briggs is going to win the case. But then, he did expect to, and I believe that's why he refused to settle out of court.

I think it only takes only one firm holdout of the jury of twelve for the defendant to be found not liable, right?

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