In a way, Broward County bus driver Charles Butler has been lucky. Despite hitting 10 cars, losing his driver's license five times, showing up late and sparking a lawsuit, he remains behind the wheel.
One of Butler's bus accidents cost taxpayers $73,005. The 2009 accident sent a passenger in the other vehicle to the hospital for knee surgery.
Broward County commissioners voted to settle the claim in October, hinting at Butler's driving history but keeping the details private in a confidential county attorney memo later released to the Sun Sentinel.
"I looked at his record," remembers former County Commissioner Ilene Lieberman, the lone "no" vote on the settlement. "I was shocked that he was still employed."
Troubled by the case, commissioners asked county transit staff for more information about how the bus department handles its traffic accidents and what it takes to get fired. But they never got it.
"I would say the board needs to give direction for the bar to be made higher," Commissioner Lois Wexler said Friday. "People's lives are at risk."
In a region known for road rage, the way bus drivers handle their mega-ton vehicles is a matter of public angst. The Broward transit department's complaint logs are threaded with outrage from people sharing the roads with buses, with quite a few alleging that reckless bus drivers gave them "the finger" after near-misses.
One woman last year complained that "the bus cut her off, causing her to merge into the other lane and [she] almost had an accident. She said she is 8 months pregnant and was terrified," the complaint log says.
Another woman complained a bus driver was "trying to use the bus as a weapon" on the roads.
Broward's accident policy is more lenient than in neighboring counties, forgiving drivers' accidents after two years. In Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties, officials consider a driver's record over three years when making firing decisions.
Though Broward's policies say drivers with five "preventable" accidents in a two-year period face termination, Butler's personnel records show he hit that threshold in 2007.
Broward transportation spokeswoman Phyllis Berry said the department's safety record is solid and Butler's track record is outside the norm. She called it a cause for concern, saying Butler, a 12-year driver who earns $47,881, has been sent for re-training.
Broward transit officials and the bus union alike say Butler's accident record is on the high end.
"We don't have crazy folks out there. ... We've had operators who've been here 20 years and never had an accident," Berry said.
Butler, 61, didn't respond to interview requests made through the union and the transit department.
State driving records show Butler's license has been suspended five times during his time with Broward transit, each time for failure to pay for insurance or to pay a traffic ticket. Berry said he was taken off the road during those periods.
Butler also has a history of discipline for showing up late for work and was warned he'd be fired if it happened again. Though he's been disciplined for tardiness four times since that 2011 warning, the violations fell outside the window of time to warrant firing, personnel records show.
To date, Butler's been disciplined 18 times and served a total 18 days of suspension for showing up late since he started work in 2001. He's served a total 17 days of suspension for his role in 21 bus accidents.
Twelve of the crashes were determined to be "preventable" by the five-member board that reviews accidents.
John Batson was one of 10 drivers hit by Butler.
Batson, a 62-year-old Fort Lauderdale resident, had his 94-year-old aunt in the car with him a year ago and was waiting for a traffic signal to turn green in Hollywood.
"The bus was behind me and he rolled into me," Batson said.
Not one to file lawsuits, Batson said, he was just relieved he and his aunt weren't hurt, and he dropped it after the the county paid to replace his Ford Escape bumper. The bus' bike rack made impact, he said, which softened the blow.
Batson said the county was "stingy" with information, and he didn't know he was the ninth driver Butler had rear-ended.
"In the private industry, if you did that you'd be fired after the second accident," said Batson, who sells used cars. "And this guy will probably get a pension for 40 years or another job driving."
Berry called Butler a "well-liked and hard-working employee" who earned some recent commendations from bus riders, including one from a passenger who said "we all wished him a Merry Christmas this morning and he got hugs and kisses from us when we were leaving. Imagine an entire bus with passengers shouting Merry Christmas! We got him good this morning!"
President William Howard of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1267 said after a few accidents in a short time, drivers are offered help through the employee assistance program and given a physical in case a change in eyeglasses is needed.
"Sometimes it's just hard to figure out or pinpoint what's going on with somebody," he said.
The Broward bus driver contract says drivers will face increasing discipline for crashes in a two-year period, and can be fired for the fifth accident.
Under that policy, Butler could have been fired in 2007, when he slid into the rear bumper of a vehicle on Stirling Road in Dania Beach. He'd hit a car in Hollywood the month before, hit a fixed object at the Lauderhill Mall two months before that, and hit two cars from behind in Hollywood and Davie in 2005.
Despite that policy, Butler remained on the job.
"Maybe they missed it," union President Howard said.
Transit officials said a mistake might have been made in disciplining Butler. Instead of an increasing level of discipline, Butler was back to just a warning on his fourth accident.
Berry said Transit Director Tim Garling, relatively new to the department, thought "there was not appropriate management oversight in the issuance of discipline to Mr. Butler."
Again in 2009, Butler narrowly missed the firing threshold, after another two-year spate of crashes. The fifth accident was a four-car chain reaction he started by hitting a car from the rear on Broward Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale, his personnel file records show. The crash was 10 days outside the window for termination.
Butler was cited by police for failure to use due care. Two drivers were taken to the hospital, and one of Butler's passengers complained of an injury.
Under the contract, drivers with accidents also can be terminated if they have accumulated more than 25 "points" in a year. The accident review board members -- two of whom are from the bus drivers union -- rate the driver's negligence on a scale of 0 to 25, and the total is divided by five for an average. All five members would have to assign a 25 in order for one accident to spell a driver's firing.
In Palm Beach County, transit officials have more direct authority to fire drivers.
Palm Tran Executive Director Chuck Cohen said there are no point systems like in Broward. Drivers can be fired based on their crash history within a three-year span if administrative staff simply feels it's warranted.
"We can, and have, terminated operators for a single accident," Cohen said, "if we felt negligence was involved or they weren't doing their job."
Cohen said it's important that the driver is given a fair shake -- because of the amount of time they spend on the road, they are more at risk for accidents than other drivers.
"That's all they do," he said. "They're on the road."
Howard said he doesn't remember a bus driver ever having been fired in Broward for poor driving history.
On July 16, 2010, Butler was warned by transit officials in a memo that if he had one more chargeable accident, he would be terminated.
After that date, he was in six more accidents, including hitting two vehicles from the rear. But four weren't blamed on Butler. And by then, his accident clock had reset.
He's still waiting to hear whether he'll be disciplined in his most recent accident, when he hit the rear of a vehicle in Pembroke Park on Nov. 21.
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