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Bus driver recalls SR 520 accident in which steel pipe missed him by 6 inches: ‘I’m lucky to be here’

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SEATTLE — He’s been a Metro bus driver for 22 years.

“I’m lucky to be here,” Jeff O’Neill said Tuesday.

O’ Neill is grateful to be back in the driver’s seat after surviving the March 17 construction accident on the bridge.

“One minute I am driving across 520, the next second I have a piling coming through the windshield,” O’Neill said.

A steel pipe tore through the windshield of the bus, missing the O’Neill by 6 inches.

“I think it went back up through the ceiling of the bus,” O’Neill said.

Contractors were using a crane to unload steel pipes along the 520 Bridge next to moving cars. But something went wrong and the pipe swung into traffic. O’Neill saw the huge object coming before the impact.

“Just a silhouette of the piling and then, boom, the crash -- I didn’t have time to be scared because it happened so fast,” O’Neill said.

The pipe also knocked down a highway sign that struck the bus.

“I had to push stuff out of the way, I mean I couldn’t tell you what I was pushing out of the way, I climbed out of the driver’s compartment and tried to help my passengers as much as I could,” O’Neill said.

In the darkness ,the driver frantically got passengers off the bus.

“There was a lot of screaming; like I said, it was a chaotic scene,” O’Neill said.

Eight people were hurt, including O’Neill.

“I had some cuts on my hand, I am also having back and hip issues,” O’Neill said.

But he has a new lease on life.

“One day you can be here, the next day you can be gone; it is very amazing someone was looking out for us that night,” O’Neill said.

King County Metro says they are proud of how O’Neill handled the incident.

The state’s Labor & Industries is investigating the incident.

In the meantime, the Washington State Department of Transportation says its contractor, Flatiron Construction, will not unload steel pipes next to moving traffic anymore.

 

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