DC police: Driver handled ringing phone as bus struck Skagway mayor and her mother

Police in Washington, D.C. have arrested a bus driver on charges of involuntary manslaughter in connection with the deaths last week of Skagway Mayor Monica Carlson and her mother.

Forty-five-year-old Gerard Derrick James of Baltimore was arrested Thursday.

Police say a traffic camera shows Carlson and her mother, 85-year-old Cora Louise Adams, waited for the “walk” signal before crossing Pennsylvania Avenue, just north of the National Mall. The bus that hit them was making a left turn onto Pennsylvania.

A police officer’s written statement filed in the criminal case suggests the driver was responding to a cell phone call at the time of the collision.

The officer says the bus company turned over video from two safety cameras on board the bus. One camera, trained on the driver, shows his phone rang as he was executing the left turn, and that he transferred the phone from one hand to the other during the turn, the statement says.

It is illegal in the District of Columbia to use a hand-held cell phone while driving. But watch traffic for a few minutes and you’ll likely notice the ban is often ignored, and it has exceptions for emergency calls, and for “initiating or terminating a telephone call, or turning the telephone on or off.”

The officer’s statement suggests James’ phone was still ringing at the time of the accident. But that was not James’ only call that night, police allege. Seconds before the turn, the video shows he was driving and talking on the phone, according to the police statement.

The officer says James can be seen setting the phone down, only to pick it up again when it rings during his turn.

A forward-facing camera on the bus shows the women in the marked crosswalk just before the collision, according to the officer’s statement.

James told investigators he was unaware of the pedestrians until he heard the impact, the document says.

James’ next court date is Feb. 15.

Kirsten Swann contributed to this report.

Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent at Alaska Public Media. Reach her at lruskin@alaskapublic.org. Read more about Liz here.

Previous articleHow a missed opportunity and unforeseen costs became part of the Alaska Class Ferry story
Next articleMagnitude 4.9 aftershock rattles Southcentral