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KCAL News investigates: Mother demands answers after Metro bus kills son

Mother demands answers after Metro bus kills son
Mother demands answers after Metro bus kills son 11:54

More than a dozen deaths and thousands of injuries are connected to Metro bus traffic accidents over the last four years.

There are new questions about those after the tragic bus-related death of actor Michael Landon's grandson just about six months ago.

This deadly accident was caught on several bus cameras, but Metro wouldn't release the video. In anticipation of our Thursday story, though, on Wednesday, Metro offered to show us the video, saying they believe it shows this was a suicide.

They refused to give us the video, but the family did. They're outraged and now say they do not think their son killed himself.

They say he struggled with mental and drug issues and was sometimes without a home. But they strongly believe that had nothing to do with how he died, or how the Metro bus that hit him did not stop immediately.

We're not naming the driver because authorities have not accused him or charged him with anything -- another difficult reality for the family.

The serenity of the roadside scene is pierced by passing Metro buses, a roar of a reminder of how her son's life stopped there.

"Sometimes it's pure anguish and sadness," said Shawna Landon, the mother of Dylan Lupia, who was 24 years old when he died.

The anguish first came thundering through on August 17, 2022. Metro's own cameras captured it: Route 344 rolling past the cliffside Terranea Resort in Rancho Palos Verdes.

One passenger boards and heads to the back. The bus driver is behind the wheel. And seconds later Dylan Lupia is along the road.

Then, impact. Inside, the windshield shatters, showering debris. Outside, Dylan's body tumbles to the ground.

Shawna Landon hasn't seen those images. But she has seen these photos of the bus taken afterward.

"So when you see that, that much damage, you'd be like, 'Oh my gosh! What just happened?' Like, pull over, do something," said Landon.

But the driver did not pull over. He continued to the next stop and even before inspecting the damage from the outside, he stays inside the bus and calls dispatch.

"One of these transients up here doing the mountain roads up here in Palos Verdes decided to go on ahead and toss a bottle at the windshield of the bus, and the left -- right windshield, rather -- is completely shattered," the driver says on the in-bus video.

"Is everybody on the bus OK?" asks the dispatcher.

"Oh yeah, everything's, everybody's fine, oh yeah, everything's fine," says the driver.

But everybody was not fine. Dylan lay dead back on the road behind him.

"Yeah, I'm angry," said Shawna Landon. "There's just no words to describe that someone can just be that callous and indifferent. I just saw those picture. There's no way you don't know with that kind of impact."

There are images of the driver during the actual impact. And nearly 20 minutes later, there are images of him still in the bus, eight-tenths of a mile away as rescuers race in.

"That you can say that you just think that this was something that was thrown at the bus and it was vandalism, when clearly when you look at the pictures, it's not possible," said Landon.

When the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office interviews him, in their report deputies say the driver "said he saw" Dylan, but said Dylan "lunged at the bus without warning." The driver said he "moved left more" to clear him and believed Dylan "threw something, possibly a liquid-filled bottle." The report adds "at no time did [the driver] think he struck [Dylan]."

It was a full 12 days later, that investigators called the driver, and then asked why he didn't stop for nearly a mile. The report says he "feared for the safety of himself, his passenger and further damage to the bus" and was following "MTA policy."

When the detective asked the driver how he was doing, the report says "He was having difficulty sleeping at night ... consumed thinking about the incident." The report ultimately concluding Dylan "is at fault ... for running into the roadway." But the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department says the investigation is still ongoing.

Should he have stopped?

"He should absolutely have stopped. If we strike someone and do not stop, that's considered hit and run," said family attorney Robert Barta.

Is it criminal?

"I believe so," said Barta.

Should he be charged?

"I believe so," said Barta.

Family attorney Robert Barta believes the bus driver knew exactly what happened.

"He's admitted to actually having seen Dylan," said Barta. "Dylan was struck, he's lying in the road to the right of the bus, clearly visible from that mirror. The bus driver is shown to look over."

Does he look like he knows he hit someone?

"No," said Barta. "It's doesn't even look like he knows something damaged the bus."

So how do you explain that? Does that exonerate him?

"I don't believe so," said Barta.

"I do have questions about how that could have happened, how they could've left Dylan just lying there on the side of the road," said Janice Hahn, who sits on the L.A. County Board of Supervisors and on the Metro Board of Directors. Hahn is herself trying to get those answers from Metro's own investigation.

You've seen the video.

"I have," said Hahn.

Is it hard for you to understand how a bus driver could hit someone that is 6-feet-1 and weighs 180 pounds and is clearly visible in the video?

"Well, of course, it is," said Hahn.

You have made sure that there was an investigation. Do you know the results of the investigation by Metro?

"I do not know the results of that investigation, it has not been shared," said Hahn.

Should it be shared with you?

"It should be shared with us," said Hahn.

Should it be shared with the public?

"I will be asking that that investigation at least be shared with the Metro Board of Directors," said Hahn.

But Metro is refusing to release even basic information about the driver or his past.

Whether he's still employed by Metro, what his current assignment is, those are basic questions. Should we have the answers to those?

"I think absolutely, absolutely the public has a right to know that," said Hahn.

Through public records, we have learned this isn't Metro's first bus-related death or injury.

Since 2019, 3,744 people have been injured in accidents involving Metro buses, and 21 people have died -- but after voicing their displeasure with our story promotion on Wednesday, Metro says it researched the very numbers they themselves had given us weeks ago. And hours before air, Metro revised that number of deaths down to 14, now claiming seven deaths were only "witnessed" by bus drivers who were not involved in accidents themselves.

Metro CEO Stephanie Wiggins oversees all Metro operations, including Metro safety. But she refuses to speak about those numbers, Metro's safety record, or its policies and procedures after accidents.

"It is a critical issue," said Janice Hahn.

Issues at least one director has serious concerns over.

"I mean, one death seems like a lot to me," said Hahn.

And changing her one death into the last death is what mother Shawna Landon is now living on. And she wants answers.

"He's my son, and so he deserves answers, and I don't have the answers still, and I don't have the accountability," said Landon.

Not only for her family, but for every family down this sometimes precarious road.

You think you're ever going to get it?

"I don't know. That's up to Metro. That's up to the bus driver," said Landon.

We reached out several times to the bus driver, but so far have not gotten back any response from him.

As for Metro, it says they drive more than 79 million miles of bus routes each year, and they've calculated there's, on average, one injury accident every 100,000 miles, and on average, less than one fatality every 10 million miles.

They say the drivers receive extensive training mandated by the state of California. They offer their condolences to the family but say they are not commenting because of possible litigation.

The family just wants answers -- not only from the bus driver, but from the passenger who was the only other person on that bus. If you know who that person is, please contact the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, or the family, or us here at KCAL News.

And a quick disclosure: While we were already investigating this story, a Metro bus side-swiped my personal car and left the scene. A supervisor did come out immediately, inspected the damage, and Metro did take responsibility for that damage.

L.A. County Supervisor Janice Hahn is also looking into getting those crash-warning sensors many cars have installed on buses, so perhaps bus drivers will have even more warning ahead of crashes like private drivers now sometimes do.


Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) responds to KCAL News inquiries:

What is Metro's response to these bus injuries and fatalities? 

Safety is Metro's top priority. We are committed to ensuring our bus operators operate transit vehicles as safely as possible.  This is especially important in Los Angeles County, an area with extreme and prolonged daily traffic congestion on both its roads and freeways.  

The number of bus accidents per 100,000 miles has remained fairly consistent year over year between 2019 to 2023. We have not observed a spike in bus accidents over this time period.   

To provide a sense of the sheer miles of service Metro provides, we currently operate an average of 6.3 million miles of service every single month in Los Angeles County.  Metro operates an average of 79.3 million miles of bus service every year. Within this same time frame, injuries have averaged 1.15 per 100,000.  Fatalities were .01 per 100,000 miles. (Metro Revised this number on 4/19/23 to be  "0.007 fatalities per 100,000 miles")

What type of training do Metro Bus operators receive? 

Metro operators are highly trained operators. They receive robust and ongoing training to safely operate on local streets.   

For example, Metro operators complete six weeks of initial training, which includes defensive driving skills.  In addition to six weeks of initial training, operators receive three weeks of line instruction with a mentor at their respective division.  In total, that results in nine weeks of initial new operator training. 

Bus operators are required to complete Verified Transit Training (VTT) as required by the State of California and receive additional defensive driving skills training as needed. They are regularly reminded of safe and defensive driving through safety handouts, safety message postings and discuss safety at monthly meetings. Metro regularly monitors operators for safe driving by Metro supervisory personnel. 

Metro supports the National Roadway Safety Strategy (NRSS) through advancements in a Safe Systems Approach by pursuing numerous efforts to develop mitigation strategies for bus vs vehicle and bus vs pedestrian collisions.  This includes:  

  • Widespread community education campaigns designed to promote safe behaviors by the public and inform them of unsafe behaviors that can lead to accidents.  
  • Developing and disseminating communication materials such as brochures/pamphlets, etc. that reinforce safety rules, procedures and training for Operators based on accident trends.   
  • Deploying Safety Ambassadors who distribute safety materials that advocate safe behaviors and discourage unsafe acts and risks.
  • Reviewing bus stops to identify and resolve noted hazards that could result in injury to customers. 
  • Evaluating new systems to enhance operator and maintenance of way training along rail lines and on the right of way.  
  • Installing railroad-type four quadrant gates for vehicles and pedestrian gates on Bus Rapid Transit lines requiring signal preemption. 
  • Installing bus-only lanes to segregate vehicles from buses to reduce the potential for collisions.  
  • Installing reflective tape/graphics on the back of buses to enhance visibility of buses and reduce rear-end collisions. 
  • Evaluating the design of the left side mirror to provide operators better visibility and reduce possible blind spots.  
  • Working with bus manufacturers to enhance the visibility and public awareness of bus turn signals and brake lights. 
  • Creating shorter bus operator assignments and minimizing overtime as operator hiring improves to reduce potential for operator fatigue. 
  • Exploring software that constantly monitors the operators to ensure they are attentive and not falling asleep at the wheel. 
  • Exploring new collision avoidance technology on buses. 
  • Exploring installation of a camera system with external 360-degree or 270-degree cameras to provide the best possible all-around field of vision for operators. This provides the ability for vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists and obstacles to be observed in areas that would not otherwise be visible by an operator. 
  • Exploring installation of strobe lights or other visual signals to sides of the light rail vehicles to make cars more visible to reduce accidents. 

The family of Dylan Lupia has a pending claim seeking damages against Metro regarding the August 2022 bus accident that resulted in Dylan's death.  What is Metro's comment on this case? 

Metro is greatly saddened by this accident and extends its heartfelt condolences to the family of Dylan Lupia during this difficult time. We have worked closely with our law enforcement partners and our internal team to investigate this tragic bus accident.  As this is a pending claim with the family, Metro cannot comment specifically on the current status of this case.   

What is the protocol for resolving bus accidents and claims that result in injury and/or fatality?  

Metro has a well-established process and protocols in place for responding to and investigating collisions resulting in injuries or fatalities. Upon initial notification of a serious accident by the bus operator, Metro's Bus Operations Control Center (BOC) will notify an Operations supervisor, who may contact the agency's Collision Investigation Team for immediate dispatch to the accident scene. The Collision Investigation Team will conduct an investigation, which may include the collection of evidence and witness interviews to be used by Metro management in the administration and review of pending personnel matters, corrective measures, and in the evaluation of claims or litigation that may arise from the incident.   

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