A bicyclist who was hit by a city garbage truck driver in Waimanalo in 2009 got $50,000 from city taxpayers earlier this year.
The truck driver, Michael Fernandez, was temporarily assigned to the route he was driving for the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) on Aug. 8, 2009, when he collided with Alan Tsuhako, according to court documents.
Fernandez was making a left turn into Kaiona Beach Park in Waimanalo, going less than 5 mph, and didn’t see the bicyclist, Fernandez said in a court deposition after Tsuhako filed a lawsuit. The truck hit the left side of the bicycle and Tsuhako flew over the hood of the vehicle, landing on the pavement.
Tsuhako sustained injuries including a concussion, a broken collarbone, facial and lip lacerations, teeth fractures, multiple cuts and bruises, along with “serious mental and emotional distress,” the lawsuit claimed.
“He got banged pretty bad, but he did not require surgery,” Stuart M. Kodish, Tsuhako’s lawyer, told Civil Beat, adding that Fernandez was not apologetic and “took a very defiant position in the case.”
The city settled for $50,000 after lawyers considered the circumstances and the anticipated costs of litigation, according to Jay Parasco, a spokesman for the city.
Fernandez has had several driving-related convictions in the past two decades.
Court documents show that Fernandez was convicted of driving under the influence in 1990; driving without a license in 1991; and had citations for speeding in 2000, 2003, 2006 and 2011.
Speed and alcohol were not factors in the collision with Tsuhako, and Fernandez’ driving record could not have been brought up if the case had gone to trial. Lawyers for Fernandez and the city filed a motion requesting that it be excluded, claiming the driving records were not relevant to the case.
What Does it Take to Drive a City Vehicle?
Parasco said the requirements for operating city vehicles are specific to the position, the type of vehicle and the type of license the vehicle requires.
“At minimum, for a position requiring the driving of a vehicle, evidence of an appropriate valid driver’s license is required,” Parasco said.
The city Department of Environmental Services handles most of the city’s waste collection, while the DPR handles collecting trash from city parks and beach parks, such as where this collision occurred.
According to Parasco, Honolulu has a driver’s qualification and training program that new hires have to complete, along with a Vehicle Accident Review Program.
As long as a potential driver is able to obtain the proper licenses and goes through the training program, a previous driving record isn’t taken into consideration.
A driver of a city garbage truck (known formally as a Refuse Collection Equipment Operator) must have a Class B Commercial Drivers License (CDL). Drivers with a CDL are subjected to stiffer penalties if they commit traffic offenses while driving commercial vehicles. More than one speeding violation can result in a two-month disqualification, while a first-time DUI results in a one-year disqualification.
Any traffic violation in a non-commercial vehicle that results in a suspension or revocation of a regular driver’s license will also result in suspension or revocation of the CDL.
The city’s Vehicle Accident Review Committee works to prevent accidents that involve vehicles that are owned or controlled by the city. The committee has monthly meetings where each accident is considered. If it deems the accident avoidable, the driver is told what actions he or she should have taken to avoid or lessen the severity of the accident.
Depending on how severe the accident is, the driver may face disciplinary measures such as remedial training or even termination.
Fernandez is now a groundskeeper for city parks, a position that does not require driving garbage trucks.
DISCUSSION: Should the city be more selective in the hiring process of commercial vehicle operators?
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