'Justice for Jason': Family continues investigating months after Transfort facility death

Fort Collins Coloradoan - Every night — unless he stopped by for a visit on his way home from work — Jason Telleen sent his mother, Patricia Telleen, a text that read “I love you.”

But she hasn’t received a text from her only son since Jan. 23.

That's because on Tuesday, Jan. 24, the 37-year-old man was killed while working at the city of Fort Collins Transfort fueling and maintenance facility on Portner Road in south Fort Collins. Jason was hit by a bus driven by another employee who was refueling buses that night.

The city and police reports contradict this, claiming that a city official and lead investigator offered condolences at the hospital and that an investigator called Haltzman and Telleen to provide updates on multiple occasions.

Haltzman said the investigating officer was in touch with him throughout their investigation, providing updates on how their investigation was progressing, but did not share any details, leaving Telleen "in the dark" until Haltzman's office received the police report and videos through a records request.

Telleen told the Coloradoan that not knowing how her son died gave her insomnia, and led to nightmares when she could sleep, because she struggled with trying to understand how this could have happened.

According to video shared with the Coloradoan, Jason was walking across the tarmac from the office past a row of garage bays when the bus driver turned into Jason's path. Jason was run over, then the driver backed up over him. The driver told police they thought ice had fallen off the bus and realized Jason had been hit only when they backed up and saw him on the ground.

A criminal investigation concluded that no charges would be filed against the driver of the bus, who was working in their assigned capacity as a maintenance person, had five years of experience working at the facility and had a commercial driver's license. The driver regularly operates buses while working in the facility, but that night they were helping with the evening fueling routine because of staffing limitations.

The Coloradoan is not naming the driver because they have not been criminally charged.

Haltzman called the police investigation into this case "poorly conducted" and the district attorney's review "cursory," leading Telleen to hire her own engineers, biomechanical experts and investigators to investigate her son's death. Telleen hopes the evidence gathered in independent investigation will aid in Haltzman's anticipated petition to a judge to order criminal charges be filed against the driver, either by the district attorney's office or a special prosecutor.

“I’m not going to give up on any of this. They took everything from me," Telleen said. "... This is about justice for Jason. He did not deserve any of this."

What the video shows about the night Jason Telleen was killed

Video obtained by the Coloradoan from the city facility shows the crash, and the Coloradoan has chosen not to publish the video due to its graphic nature. Here's a summary of what that video shows:

Just after 7 p.m. Jan. 24, Jason starts crossing the tarmac from the office area.
Nine seconds later, the bus comes around the corner, toward Jason.
As they get closer together, Jason walks right to avoid the bus, and the bus continues straight, with Jason in between the bus and garage bays.
About 22 seconds after Jason starts walking across the tarmac and 13 seconds after the bus comes into view, the bus driver makes a hard left toward the garage bays and runs over Jason near the middle of the tarmac.
The driver backs up over Jason and gets out of the bus to check on him.
The driver runs toward the office.

After reviewing the Fort Collins police investigation, including videos from the facility and bus, the 8th Judicial District Attorney's Office made the decision not to charge the driver with careless driving resulting in death, which would have been a Class 1 misdemeanor.

"After the thorough review process involving multiple attorneys, our office ultimately agreed with the investigating officer that the evidence does not support nor reach the burden of proof needed for any criminal charges," district attorney's office spokesperson Brianna Jones said in an email.

Jones said attorneys cited lighting, time of day and lack of reflective clothing as complicating factors in the crash. Attorneys believe "it is clear that any video perspective is not the same as the driver's perspective while maneuvering the bus" and "the driver's maneuvers were described as prudent and reasonable driving by the investigating officer, who holds a Class A CDL," Jones said in the email statement.

"It is a heartbreaking situation, and we extend our condolences to the Telleen family," Jones said.

Employees flag safety concerns at Transfort facility

Facility employees and witnesses to the crash who spoke with police after the crash talked about some safety concerns they had about the facility and its operations — many of which the city has worked to address with changes in policy as well as physical changes at the facility.

Here's what employees told police after the crash:

Two witnesses said the bus appeared to be "driving extremely fast" and moving "really fast ... faster than others" to the parking area where Jason was hit. At the time of the crash, the buses were being sent on a different route through the facility because of repair work being done, according to the police report. The route changed about three months prior to this crash.
A safety and security employee said there was no policy requiring high-visibility clothing, though it was highly encouraged.

Jason was wearing a black jacket and black pants in the video of the crash. According to the police report, he had two high-visibility vests in his locker.

The city has been working reevaluate what type of high visibility clothing and other personal protective equipment all city employees at every level need and get the equipment out to them, said City Safety and Risk Management Director Claire Goodwin. The city provides that equipment "with the expectation that (employees) are going to wear it," but when that expectation is not consistent across all departments and facilities, that's where safety concerns and issues can arise, Goodwin said.

A witness who spoke with the driver right after the crash said the driver kept repeating, "I swear I didn't see him, I didn't see him." The same witness theorized that poor lighting in the area, combined with the blind spot in the bus created by the A-frame on the front windshield, could make it so a pedestrian walking out of the office in that spot wouldn't be seen by the driver.

The driver also spoke with police on multiple occasions. Here's some of what they said:

Immediately after the crash, the driver told police they believed they were traveling about 15-20 mph and "acknowledged the necessity to not drive fast through that area." Based on the video footage, police determined the bus was traveling at a maximum of 13-14 mph, and GPS data showed the bus was traveling at 8-9 mph at the time of the crash, according to the police report.
The driver said they were making a "K turn" to get into the garage, which is a type of turn they said they have made before but do not make often. They said they didn't see Jason before the crash because they were looking at the bay doors, and they assumed ice fell off the bus before they got out and saw Jason on the ground.
In a meeting with an investigator on Feb. 17, the driver was told that no charges have been filed against them. In body camera footage of that meeting shared with the Coloradoan, the driver says the area where they hit Jason was poorly lit and people don't always wear high-visibility clothing. "That area where (Jason) was passing is essentially 'no-man's land,' " the driver told police during that meeting. "... I hate to say it, but it was almost like an accident waiting to happen."

A former city employee who worked at the facility at the same time as Jason spoke with the Coloradoan under the condition of anonymity, citing ongoing retaliation even though they no longer work for the facility. They told the Coloradoan that safety at the facility has been a major concern for a long time, but employees are not free to share their concerns. Here are some of their concerns from before the crash:

Inadequate lighting throughout the facility
Not enough safety signs
No walkways on the roadway or tarmac designating where pedestrians should walk or where buses should drive

"It would have been so simple that if there was a moving bus, to have a flashing red light so that somebody opening a (garage bay) door would be aware of that," the former employee said, adding later, "many times I was inches away from being hit by a bus."

The former employee blamed a "culture of silence" at the facility that they said made employees feel uncomfortable reporting safety concerns because they feared retaliation.

City making safety changes,'working to improve'

The city's risk management investigation relied heavily on the police investigation to determine the cause of the crash and who, if anyone, was at fault, Goodwin said. The city's review focused on looking at the police report to decide what the city could change to prevent something similar from happening again.

"There's a lot of care and concern and compassion for Jason and his family, and also for all the employees present," Goodwin said. "... We are taking our lessons learned, and we're working to improve."

Jason's death prompted city officials to look at safety standards citywide, Goodwin said. Here are some of the things they've done in response:

Established more definitive expectations for when and where personal protective equipment/high-visibility clothing is required, "making sure PPE policy is up to date, and going back to each department to make sure they're in compliance, and if not help them get there," Goodwin said.
Painted large "10 mph" signage on the roads throughout the facility. Goodwin said 10 mph has always been the speed limit in the facility.
Created designated pedestrian walkways within the Transfort fueling and maintenance facility.
Completed risk assessments and job hazard analyses citywide to "ensure our safety measures truly reflect the work that's actually being done," Goodwin said.

"It's a continuous process," Goodwin said, to "make sure we learn from those and make changes necessary to prevent the same thing from happening again."

City employees can report safety concerns through the city's "near miss"/hazard reporting system, which is the city's "opportunity to fix things before it becomes a problem," Goodwin said. Reports can be a true "near miss" with a city vehicle, for example, or any hazard city employees see on the job, from minor to major concerns.

The city received two reports of safety issues through its "near miss"/hazard reporting system immediately following Jason's death — on Feb. 1 and 13 — surrounding pedestrian safety at the facility, Goodwin said. Both of those complaints were addressed with the painting of pedestrian walkways throughout the facility — including where Jason was hit — and with signage signaling drivers to watch for blind spots.

Goodwin said those changes were made in early May, and the city is now soliciting feedback from employees at the facility on how effective those changes are, noting that so far, "people really like the changes."

"One of the things we learned from this is we really need to eliminate any uncertainty about what the rules and expectations are," Goodwin said of personal protective equipment and high-visibility clothing. In the past, Goodwin said, this expectation "was not perfectly spelled out."

The city — just like all municipalities — is not subject the federal workplace safety regulations called Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards.

Here are the oversight agencies the city needs to be in compliance with:

Per the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), the facility needs to be in "a state of good repair" because the city receives grants from the FTA. The site is in compliance with this, Goodwin said.
The state of Colorado inspects a portion of the facility's tarmac to ensure it complies with their standards because it is used by Transfort for commercial driver's license testing. No changes were made to that part of the tarmac as part the city's recent safety changes. The Department of Transportation's Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices applies to the new signage and markings in the facility, which are all in compliance.

Goodwin said the city reported Jason's death to Colorado's Division of Workers Compensation and was required to make a payment of nearly $26,000 — of which Telleen directly received $12,500, according to Haltzman — but no outside agency is tasked with investigating those cases.

"When things go wrong, it's not one person's fault, it's something we all need to lean into and talk about what we can do differently," Goodwin said.

See the original article here: https://www.coloradoan.com/story/news/2023/06/02/fort-collins-makes-safety-changes-family-continues-investigating-months-after-bus-facility-death/70272994007/

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