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Originally published Thursday, May 9, 2013 at 6:33 PM

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Bus inspected a week before fatal crash

The brakes on a 2008 transit bus passed a safety check a week before it was involved in a fatal crash Monday night, a mechanic’s log says.

Seattle Times transportation reporter

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The bus involved in Monday night’s fatal I-405 crash had passed a routine safety inspection a week earlier, according to a routine maintenance log released by Sound Transit on Thursday.

During a 30-minute test drive on May 1, a mechanic looked into a complaint the bus pulled right, and found it “did not pull, and didn’t pull when braking.” Also, the log says, the brake pads were all a quarter-inch thick, putting them above the minimum standard.

The bus driver, Aleksander Rukhlin, of Everett, told troopers Monday night he believed the brakes had failed. Troopers said he showed no signs of impairment.

The Route 535 bus to Lynnwood was traveling uphill at a left-side exit to the Totem Lake Transit Center in Kirkland, where witnesses say it ran a red light and hit an SUV. After impact, the bus continued on a downhill ramp a half-mile toward northbound I-405. Two passengers in the SUV died, Robert and Elizabeth Rotta of Bellevue, who had been married 54 years.

The bus, a 2008 Gillig Phantom, had 298,072 miles on it. The model is rated to last 12 years or 500,000 miles, said transit spokesman Bruce Gray.

Sound Transit and its operating contractors “maintain a rigorous preventive maintenance program on all fleet vehicles,” Gray emphasized.

If the air-driven brakes on the bus fail, then a “maxi brake” is supposed to engage.

Maintenance logs are just one piece of evidence in an investigation that will take at least two more weeks.

Washington State Patrol detectives will re-interview all 24 bus passengers, said Trooper Julie Judson. Then, the WSP will obtain a search warrant to gather video and any physical evidence from the bus, now parked in a storage yard in Bellevue. Technicians will perform an examination of the brakes and other components, she said. Judson said a search warrant is standard procedure, so that if a criminal case ensues, “We want to make sure any evidence is admissible in court.”

The bus shows green-and-blue Sound Transit colors but is operated under contract by Community Transit, which subcontracts with the company First Transit for operations and maintenance.

In releasing the log to news outlets, Sound Transit added a caveat: “Please do not interpret, or convey in any way to your viewers or readers, that our providing this document per your request reflects any conclusion whatsoever on the part of Sound Transit about the cause of this tragic accident. We will rely on the thorough Washington State Patrol investigation.”

The crash was the first fatality on Sound Transit’s ST Express bus network since service began in 1999.

The WSP is asking witnesses to contact detectives at 360-805-1192.

Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or mlindblom@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @mikelindblom

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