SEPTA Keeps Watchful Eye on Drivers Passing Trolleys and Buses

PHILADELPHIA (WTXF) Thousands of people ride trolleys and buses around the region every day. It can be dangerous stepping out at your destination with traffic approaching. A mother of three died in November when a car passing a trolley hit and killed her, according to police.

FOX 29's Dave Schratwieser shows us how SEPTA is cracking down on drivers.

The trolleys still rumble by 54th and Woodland where Miriam Wilson lost her life. Friends and loved ones still visit a memorial for the 38-year-old mother of three. November 16th is a day they won't ever forget.

Syreeta Shepard says she was there that day when a driver tried to pass a SEPTA trolley at 54th and Woodland and plowed into Wilson as she tried to cross the street in the crosswalk.

"He was in a hurry to get past the trolley; went on the outside of the trolley and hit the lady," she told FOX 29.

Wilson was on her way to work at a local day care when the trolley stopped to let passengers off and on. According to police, driver 23-year-old Malachi Armstrong, tried to pass the trolley on the left hand side. Police say he was traveling at a high rate of speed and went through a red light before striking Wilson.

Armstrong was arrested and charged with involuntary manslaughter, homicide by vehicle and driving under the influence of marijuana. Wilson left behind her children, her mom, dad and several siblings.

Witnesses Syreeta Shepard and Vincent Jenkins say what happened to Wilson could happen at this intersection any day. They say drivers routinely try to pass the trolleys and buses here. They worry that the next time it could be a child.

.SEPTA police are well aware of the dangers for passengers boarding and exiting septa trolleys and buses when impatient drivers try to pass on the left or the right. They now have special teams of officer positioned around the city near trolley and bus lines. Their job is to crackdown on drivers who pass trolleys and buses illegally.

FOX 29 took our undercover cameras to trolley stops to see for ourselves. We spent time with officers Brian Zenszer and Nick Jasionis on patrol for drivers who just can't wait to get around trolleys and buses across the city. We were at this stop for less than a minute when they spotted a driver pass the trolley.

SEPTA police routinely watch hot spots for this activity like the intersection of 52nd and Lancaster.

Captain Jones rattled off half a dozen intersections where SEPTA drivers tell SEPTA supervisors cars almost always try to pass them as passengers are boarding or getting off trolleys and buses. Syreeta Shepard says she's seen it first-hand many times. That's why the officers on board SEPTA's "Sam4" special operations vehicle keep a watchful eye out for passengers and pedestrians. They've seen it all as drivers try to maneuver around SEPTA vehicles, sometimes even with a crowd of passengers waiting to board at busy intersections. Warning signs are obvious on the back of every trolley.

Part of the problem is also related to the positioning of trolley tracks in certain areas of the city. They are out near the middle of the street, sometimes 8 to 10 feet from the curb and sidewalk. Oftentimes, passengers crowd into the street to board or exit trolleys.

On this morning, SEPTA officers pulled over three drivers for passing trolley' in the space of 30 minutes. The trolleys were either loading or unloading passengers when the offenses occurred. Each time the officers stopped the drivers, secured their license, registration and insurance credentials and issued the appropriate warning or ticket.

It's safety at all times is what we're trying to say. It's a rule, a law not to pass buses or trolleys when they're stopped," SEPTA said.

All this leads back to Miriam Wilson who lost her life that November morning simply heading to work to support her three children. Her loss has impacted many and reminded others how easily an impatient driver trying to pass a bus or trolley can cost someone their life.

The fine for illegally passing a trolley is $137. Police say Armstrong is facing over 10 years in prison if he's convicted in the death of Miriam Wilson.