Incident raises PARTA safety concerns

Amadeus Smith

Delayed report of accident sparks questions from student, family

The friction from the spinning wheels burnt Les Courts’ hands as he tried to stop his wheelchair from rocketing down Terrace Drive.

Courts, sophomore sports management major, said he was approaching Oscar Ritchie Hall after leaving a PARTA disability bus when his chair began to plummet down the hill.

“There were cars coming up the other side of the road, and I turned my wheel so I wouldn’t go all the way down,” said Courts, whose temporary disability was a result of a stroke.

As he turned his wheel, the wheelchair flipped on its side, throwing Courts to the ground.

Joe Yensel, operations manager for PARTA, said the driver had already accompanied Courts to an entrance at Oscar Ritchie, which was inaccessible to him.

He said Courts’ accident happened as he was looking for a new entrance without assistance from the driver.

After the fall, Courts said the bus driver asked him if he was all right and called her supervisor.

Yensel said the company’s policy states that, in a situation where a rider with disabilities may be injured, the driver is to call Emergency Medical Services and is not allowed to touch the injured rider.

“People with disabilities, in general, have a hard time explaining injuries,” he said.

However, drivers are allowed to try to make the injured rider as comfortable as they can without moving them. Yensel said PARTA buses have a blanket on board for injured passengers.

Within ten minutes of the accident, Courts said an acquaintance helped him into his chair.

But Courts’ mother, Donna Oliver, said although she was glad her son was assisted, she was concerned about PARTA’s delay to file the report.

Oliver said after Courts signaled to her that he wasn’t injured, the driver left immediately instead of staying to file an official report.

“She just left him there, would you leave your own child there?” she said. “She didn’t even file an official report until a half hour later.”

Yensel said the driver filed the report when she made the initial call to the supervisor. The delay occurred when the information was being transferred between supervisors.

Oliver said that the delay could have been fatal.

She said Courts’ stroke requires him to take blood thinning medication, and any significant breaking of the skin or internal rupture could be been fatal. She added Courts may not have noticed an internal injury, and PARTA should have facilitated an examination with EMS.

Oliver said she has been waiting for some explanation of what happened from PARTA and the university but hasn’t received any calls since the day of the incident, which happened more than a month ago.

She added she is hoping the company will help pay for the damage to the wheel chair.

“If it comes down to a point where I have to sue that company, I’ll do it,” Oliver said.

Yensel said the company hasn’t received any phone calls from Oliver concerning compensation for the wheel chair.

Sasha Parker, Black United Students president, is currently pushing a petition to put an EMS worker on each PARTA bus. With a goal of 1,000 signatures, Parker said the petition is making good progress. The goals, she said, are to avoid the possible delays, like Courts could have experienced, and to ensure a thorough medical evaluation after any accident.

Contact minority affairs reporter Amadeus Smith at [email protected].