Sound Transit driver won’t be charged in fatal 2013 crash

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The SUV that the Rottas were riding in when a Sound Transit bus crashed into them in May 2013. The couple died; their son survived.

KIRKLAND, Wash. — It is a night the Rotta family will never forget.

The matriarch and patriarch of their family, Elizabeth and Robert Rotta, were killed in an instant.

It happened the evening of May 6, 2013.

The Rottas had just pulled away from a green light on Northeast 128th Street when a Sound Transit bus driven by Aleksandr Rukhlin ran a red light and broadsided their SUV.

Earlier this year, the Washington State Patrol, following its investigation, had recommended that vehicular homicide charges be filed against the bus driver.

But on Tuesday, King County prosecutors said they will not be filing criminal charges against Ruklin because while he was negligent, but there’s no evidence he was intentionally so, and a careful review suggests he accidentally stepped on the gas instead of the brake.

They say the case doesn’t rise to the level of vehicular homicide.

"The family is disappointed. They certainly wanted to see criminal charges brought against the driver" Rotta family attorney Chris Davis said.

The Rotta couple's son, Kendall, was behind the wheel of the SUV that night.

He survived and talked about the ordeal shortly after the crash.

"I remember I was coming up over the overpass and the light was green and I looked to the intersection, it looked clean, clear and ... and it seemed just like a fraction of a second after that it was, bam.”

"Although it's an egregious case, the family understands why criminal or felony charges are not being brought, primarily because how the law is written,” Davis said.

In a case like this prosecutors first look for driver impairment due to drugs or alcohol.

"The driver was seen by an expert who made an evaluation for any kind of impairment and, of course, he was not impaired in any way, shape or form,” King County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Mark Larson said.

Rukhlin alleged the brakes failed but a detailed inspection found the bus in perfect condition.

Next prosecutors look for negligence.

"Every accident involves some form of negligence but what we have to find is some sort of conscious disregard, some sort of really aggravated, heightened negligence to make it a crime. That was not there in this case,” Larson said.

So, there will be no criminal charges and still a lot of unanswered questions for a family still in mourning.

"What actually happened? How did it happen? Why did it happen? Is there something they can do to prevent it from happening somebody else?" Kendall Rotta said.

Those are answers the family attorney says they may never get.

But there will be a lesser charge of negligent driving expected to be filed in District Court sometime in the next week, likely punishable by just a fine, and the family has also filed a civil case that is expected to be seven figures, expected to go to trial next May.

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