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Driver Error Cited In Horrific Union Square Tour Bus Crash

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- San Francisco police officials announced Wednesday that they have cited the tour bus driver in the frightening Union Square crash last November for "unsafe speed."

The San Francisco Police Department came to the conclusion after what it called a very "lengthy and painstaking" four-month investigation, Authorities said they found no mechanical errors with the double-decker sightseeing tour bus involved in the crash.

The bus was going between 40 and 45 miles per hour, leading to the citation of driver Kenneth Malvar.

The violent crash happened on November 13th when the City Sightseeing Tour Bus barreled into a construction site in a bustling Union Square.

14 cars were hit and 19 people were injured before the bus came to a final stop after crashing into scaffolding at Post and Stockton.

Investigators said they didn't find any pre-existing failures with the mechanical equipment on the bus, including the brakes, the steering components and the throttle. They also can't find any evidence that supports the driver's claims that he was stepping on the brakes.

"If he did in fact step on the brake, which we believe he did not, we definitely have proof that he stepped on the throttle," said SFPD Traffic Collision Investigation Unit lead investigator Sergeant Kevin Edison. "So that's why we believe he apparently stepped on the wrong pedal."

His attorney, Robert Cartwright, said this is what happens in collision investigations when authorities can't find mechanical errors: they are forced to blame the driver.

"He did not keep his foot on the accelerator. He has 15 years of experience. He's a Marine," explained Cartwright. "He kept his cool. He maneuvered that bus brilliantly. He saved a lot of people's lives and he's extremely disappointed."

Cartwright told KPIX 5 he wanted this investigation to be conducted by an independent outlet. He said the evidence is essentially destroyed now after being deconstructed during the police's investigation.

Malvar gave a brief statement late Wednesday afternoon at his lawyer's office. He is wheelchair-bound from back and leg injuries suffered in the November crash.

"There was a mechanical problem on the bus. And I'm very disappointed in the outcome of SFPD," said the driver.

Malvar said he pumped the brakes and the accelerator several times to try and get them to work correctly but they were non responsive.

"So now it's going to be left upon me that it was driver error. But I was there like I said, and there was a mechanical problem," said Malvar. "And also they said I didn't know my gas pedal from and brake pedal. To me that's absurd."

The bus company will not receive any punishment from police. That will up to the CPUC in a separate investigation.

KPIX 5 reporting on the case has raised other issues. Records show City Sightseeing buses have revamped used buses from other states. At least one had a history of mechanical problems, namely the one involved in the crash.

The bus also was not registered with the CPUC as required. Such vehicles are referred to as so-called "ghost buses"

"There are potentially hundreds of so-called ghost buses that are not being regulated at all, that may not be having safety inspections," said San Francisco Assemblyman David Chiu. "We need to make sure that, regardless of what happened with regards to one incident, that this doesn't happen in the future."

The citation - which is just a fine - is all Malvar faces for now. However, civil litigation in connection with the crash is still pending.

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