Speeding bus injures 40 on Cinta Costera

89Views 0Comments Posted 10/01/2010

{jathumbnail off}Another day, another major accident involving one of Panama’s notorious Diablos Rojos.

A speeding bus, which according to witnesses was involved in what was effectively a chariot race on the Cinta Costera on Sunday morning, went out of control and crashed sending 40 injured passengers, three seriously,  to hospital. The bus, carrying 60 people, was driven by a 20-year- old, below the legal aid for being at the wheel of a public service vehicle. He is in custody.

Fortunately a quiet morningThe bus was carrying 60 passengers but fortunately there was little vehicular traffic and the coastal strip was almost empty of people, except for occasional joggers, and cyclists on paths bordering the bay.

Later in the day thousands of visitors flooded the area, including scores who ignored the overhead walkways and dodged road traffic, still traveling above the speed limit.

 The bus that crashed was traveling from Chorillo towards Paitilla and took down a lamp standard, before careering across the highway, crushing a no parking sign and flipping over.

Rescue services and ambulances rushed to the scene and took injured passengers to St Michael the Archangel Hospital and the Social Security Hospital.

Nearby Saint Thomas hospital was not receiving patients as it was in the midst of installing a new emergency generator.

National Police Director Gustavo Pérez was already on the Cinta Costera. One report said he was exercising. He confirmed what many passengers told police, that the bus was speeding.

Bosco Vallarino

Mayor Bosco Vallarino also turned up armed with a pocket digital camera. He said that more people could have been killed if the bus had fallen on them, and more had to be done to control buses. He also noted that this vehicle was driving with bald tires  and had no spare. One report said he had stated that the driver should be jailed, as he was a “potential murderer.”

There are no crash barriers or guard rails along the Cinta Costera expressway, which for most of the day and night is a speedway, with vehicles hurtling onto the ramp leading to Via Israel at speeds over 60 kilometers, as they pass 30 km  warning signs.

The  diablos rojos, are former U.S. school buses, removed from service. On arrival in Panama, their yellow paintwork is covered with colorful designs, but little attention is paid to servicing.

Most of the vehicles emit dense clouds of carcinogenic black smoke,  roar like the devils they are named after, and there are frequent break-downs

Dangerously worn tires

 Many, carrying under privileged  workers and school children,  travel with dangerously  worn tires.

Spot checks by transit police have turned up large numbers of drivers under the influence of drugs or alcohol, without driving licenses or with large accumulated unpaid fines for previous offenses. Many are without rear lights or reflectors. The diablos rojos are responsible for a large number of traffic fatalities each year.

The last major incident involving racing buses involved the deaths of two people, including the pavo (the man who stands on the step calling out destinations and trying to recruit passengers). The pavo was decapitated. Other major accidents involving buses were when a bus plunged off the road at the Bridge of the Americas, killing 38, and 18 people were incinerated near Via Espana when a poorly serviced vehicle burst into flames.

Groceries and shoes  lie in the upturned bus

The owner and the driver were sentenced to four years in jail, and there was a brief flurry of checks on buses which were obliged to install emergency exits. Limits, largely ignored were placed on the number of standing passengers.

The government is working to replace the diablos rojos with a modern fleet and trained salaried drivers.

Currently,  drivers battle for passengers, to collect enough money to cover the daily rent of the vehicle. This leads to races and drivers staying on the road for up to 12 hours to make a meager profit.

A solitary shoe lies near the overturned bus

President Ricardo Martinelli has asked for   the new system to be in place by the last quarter of the year, but that is a target that is unlikely to be achieved.

Last week 40 companies from around the world, vying for the contract baulked at the February deadline for submissions.

They asked for, and got, a six-months extension, That leaves a very small window for production, delivery and testing of the new fleet. Among those bidding is a newly formed Panamanian consortium involving some current owners who say they are willing to have their drivers retrained.

Owners of buses are scheduled to receive $25,000 per vehicle, many of which are little more than scrap on wheels when the new buses arrive. 

The Minister of the Presidency, Jimmy Papadimitriu said  that the Transportation Committee  had asked the Transit Authorityt (ATTT) t suspend the operating license of the owner of the bus, and said: "I hope both the driver and the owner both go to prison. "

With no operating permit the owner will not be able to collect $25,000.

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