A SamTrans bus driver a facing vehicular-manslaughter charge after her bus struck a pedestrian in Palo Alto was exonerated Wednesday, Dec. 12, after the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office dropped the charges.
Morena Guadalupe Artiga, 51, was driving a SamTrans bus at about 10:26 a.m on Dec. 30, 2010, when it struck and killed Sheena Marie Barker Krishnan in a crosswalk on Webster Street at University Avenue. Barker, a nurse, was on her way to work at Lytton Gardens. She was walking northbound across University when the southbound bus made a left turn onto University. It was traveling at about 7 mph, according to a police report.
Barker was nearly halfway across the crosswalk -- about 18 feet from the curb -- when was struck by the left, front side of the bus and sucked under. She was dragged about 40 feet, according to the police report.
Artiga told investigators she did not see Barker in the crosswalk.
"She never blamed the collision on any outside influences or roadway conditions," investigators noted. She also tested negative for drugs and alcohol, according to police.
The sun shone in Artiga's "2 o'clock" position and created shadows on certain portions of the roadway and reflections on the bus windshield, according to the bus's video recording. Artiga was wearing sunglasses, and her driver's side visor was extended down.
Investigators initially believed that Barker had been waiting on the sidewalk, at the corner, before crossing. But the bus video raised doubts about that scenario, said Cindy Hendrickson, Supervising Deputy District Attorney for the North County Courthouse in Palo Alto.
The video showed that while Artiga's bus waited for the light to change, a vehicle that appeared to be Barker's crossed in front of it on University Avenue and parked a short distance away. Barker got out and was crossing University in the crosswalk when she was struck.
Investigators knew that Barker was running late for work that morning, and after viewing the video and re-enacting the accident in October, they estimated that she might have cut the corner to save time.
Artiga would have seen Barket walking on the sidewalk but would not have seen her if she cut the corner, Hendrickson said.
"In these cases it's very important to trace the pedestrian's trajectory," she said. "We were always wrestling with 'Why didn't the bus driver see her?'"
Given the evidence, prosecutors could not try Artiga because there was another interpretation of the events that was equally reasonable and couldn't be ruled out, Hendrickson said. Jurors would have had to be convinced that the evidence supported only one conclusion beyond a reasonable doubt.
Daniel Barton, Artiga's attorney, said that his client has been devastated by Barker's death ever since the accident.
"She has been grieving in pain for the woman who had died for the entire two years this has been pending. I don't think she'll ever get over it. This is the type of life experience that forever haunts her," he said.
Witnesses said Artiga was distraught after the accident. She was taken to Kaiser Hospital in Redwood City for treatment of severe anxiety and high blood pressure at the time of the incident, police said.
The DA's office made the decision a month ago not to try the case, but Hendrickson's office had a series of meetings with Barker's husband, Musaravakkam Krishnan, before formally dropping the charges. She said she understands that Krishnan would disagree with the decision.
"It was a terrible accident and a tragedy that was nobody's criminal fault," she said.
Krishnan could not be reached for comment. He and other family members filed a civil suit against SamTrans in September 2011. The case was settled on Jan. 23, 2012, and was dismissed in September, according to San Mateo County Superior Court records.