The driver of an out-of-service Metro bus who died Thursday morning during a two-vehicle crash in south Houston was the transit agency's first vehicle operator to be killed in an on-duty wreck in at least 20 years, authorities said.
"This is a very difficult day for all of us here at Metro," said the agency's president and CEO, George Greanias. "The loss of an operator, for the first time in as long as anyone can remember, is a tragedy."
According to a preliminary investigation, the bus operator, identified as 40-year-old David Sayers, was driving the bus south on Texas 288 near MacGregor around 8:30 a.m. when he appeared to lose control of the vehicle after striking a dump truck traveling in the same direction, authorities said.
The articulated bus, which can bend in the middle, then struck a pillar at a railroad overpass and broke in half, authorities said. Sayers died at the scene.
A full-time Metro employee since 2008, Sayers was returning the bus to the Hiram Clarke Bus Operations Facility at the end of his shift. No passengers were on board the vehicle. No other injuries were reported.
Witness statements taken by Houston police, who initially investigated the crash, indicated that the driver may have suffered from a medical condition just prior to the crash, said Houston Police Department spokesman Victor Senties.
Greanias said there have been several conflicting eyewitness reports. He said Metro officials, who have taken over the crash investigation, have not yet determined whether Sayers suffered from an ailment before the wreck.
"We're going to be looking at any data that suggest a medical issue, but right now we're not going down that path other than to say it's been raised as a possibility," he said.
Metro operational procedures do not require drivers to submit to routine medical examinations but do require operators to comply with state commercial driver's license requirements, which include some physical health standards, said agency spokeswoman Margaret O'Brien Molina.
Sayers had an accident-free record with Metro and a good overall employee record, Greanias said.
Preventative maintenance had recently been performed on the bus Sayers was driving, and the vehicle did not require any maintenance in the near future, Greanias said.
"It's a bus that runs well," Greanias said, adding that the 1999 vehicle carried 315,000 miles as opposed to most buses of the same age, which generally have between 500,000 to 600,000 miles.
Chuck Berkshire, Metro's senior director of bus maintenance, said the agency performs maintenance on the bus Sayers was driving every 6,000 miles and inspections of buses occur every evening.
The articulated bus was one of 32 remaining vehicles of its kind in Metro's fleet, Greanias said.
Extra training is required to operate this type of bus, Berkshire said. Sayers was an extra board driver, meaning he did not have a regular assignment but filled in on different routes when other operators were absent.
Buses being phased out
When asked at a news conference Thursday if Sayers had received the extra training to operate the articulated bus, Greanias said, "You're not allowed to drive the bus without that training."
He said the agency planned on having all the articulated buses phased out by the end of the summer in order to add newer bus models.
Greanias also said there is no evidence to show the buses are safety hazards.
"It does not mean that somewhere down the road we might not go back and buy some more of these for particular needs," he said. "But there was no reason other than just sort of our standard phasing out of buses and purchasing of new buses that this fleet was being taken out."
In 2009, the Chicago Transit Authority removed 200 articulated buses from its service as a safety precaution after discovering serious cracks in the chassis of one of the vehicles, according to news reports.
"There is no evidence to suggest that the problems that the CTA saw in their buses were here," Greanias said, adding that the two agencies used different manufactures for their buses.
The investigation into the crash is ongoing. Greanias said the agency's focus at this time was to attend to the needs of Sayers' family. Sayers was married and had a daughter and a stepdaughter.
"Once we get through that and make sure we've done all we can to help the family," Greanias said, "then of course we'll focus on finding out exactly what happened."
Chronicle reporters Yang Wang and Dale Lezon contributed to this report.