Bus hits car door, case in court
A local jury has been asked to decide who is to blame in a 1996 accident involving a bus and a motorist in a parked car on Aspen’s Main Street.
Erik Shelton vs. Roaring Fork Transit Agency began Monday in District Court. The trial stems from a Feb. 1, 1996 accident in which a RFTA bus hit the open door of a parked car’s door and in the process pulled the driver out of the vehicle.
The uncontested chronicle of events established that Shelton, who was 22 at the time, had parked on Main Street in front of the Miner’s Building at 1:45 p.m. He was opening his driver’s side door when a RFTA bus hit vehicle’s door. Following the incident, Shelton was taken to Aspen Valley Hospital and released that same day.
On Monday, jurors were asked to review the event and determine whether the driver of the bus or Shelton is to blame. Was the RFTA driver not careful enough or did Shelton not take reasonable precautions when attempting to leave his vehicle?
During yesterday’s opening statements, Shelton’s attorney, Robert Francis, alleged that the bus hit a “perfectly legally parked car.”
Francis contended that Shelton’s injuries from the incident have “drastically” impaired Shelton’s ability to function vocationally or recreationally due to the “carelessness and negligence” of a bus driver.
But RFTA attorney Chad Neuens offered a different take on the events. Shelton proceeded to leave his car “without looking first, opening the door into the bus. He hit the RFTA bus,” not the other way around, Neuens argued.
In his opening remarks, Neuens questioned the “evidence of permanent injury,” alleging that Shelton’s attendance, or lack thereof, at physical therapy sessions revealed a person not “really hurt” but instead someone “preparing for trial.”
According to Clemeth Skiles, the bus driver who hit Shelton’s car, there wasn’t much room to predict or prevent the incident.
Slowing down before a red light at the intersection at Main and Mill, Skiles testified that he saw Shelton in his car but assumed he wasn’t getting out. Describing the bus as “a pretty big object with colors plain to see,” Skiles said Shelton gave no indication that he would get into the path of the bus.
Skiles recalled losing sight of Shelton’s vehicle without knowing anything was wrong. He didn’t see the impact, but stopped the bus when he heard the collision.
According to Skiles, there was “no room to move left” in his lane to be farther away from the parked cars. The RFTA driver, who still employed by the bus agency, testified to driving at the lane’s left edge because “other dump trucks and large cars parked on the block stuck farther out than [Shelton’s] car.”
But Shelton’s boss at the time, owner of the now-defunct Cafe Metropolitan, said to police in 1996 and several months ago in a video deposition that the bus appeared to be “driving extremely close to parked cars.”
From John Noller’s vantage point on the second floor of Cafe Metropolitan on Main Street (now the Conundrum restaurant), he witnessed the collision and ran outside to see if Shelton was hurt.
When Shelton “said he was OK,” Noller had a restaurant employee call the police and Shelton was taken to AVH by ambulance. Shelton, who was then a line cook at the restaurant, never came back to work.
Shelton himself took the stand at the end of the first day of testimony. District court Judge Thomas Ossola continued the proceedings to today and Wednesday.
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