The MBTA bus that crashed in Newton on May 18, 2014. Seven people were injured. The bus jumped the sidewalk and partially hung over I-90, the Mass. Pike. Credit: Nicolaus Czarnecki/Metro
An MBTA bus driver who allegedly told police a sneezing fit caused her to crash a Route 57 bus in Newton pleaded not guilty Tuesday morning to obstruction of justice.
Shanna Shaw, who has worked for the T since 1996, has been put on unpaid leave and charged with obstruction of justice for allegedly lying to investigators following the May 18 crash.
According to RMV Spokeswoman Sara Lavoie, Shaw's personal and commercial licenses were suspended at the request of MBTA Transit Police who were concerned that she posed an immediate threat to public safety.
Transit Police said in an affidavit that Shaw blamed the crash on a sneezing fit, but later admitted that she was holding a cellphone while driving.
Shaw was also cited for speeding, operating to endanger, and impeded operation of a motor vehicle. She is due to be arraigned Tuesday.
According to the affidavit, Shaw told police that as she turned left approaching the Route 90 overpass, she was in the middle lane and "began to sneeze. Because of the sneezing, she stated she closed her eyes. When she opened her eyes, she recognized the bus was turning too far to the left."
Shaw said she slid out of her seat as she tried to gain control of the bus, but was unable to do so, and fell to the floor as the bus travelled over the sidewalk and collided with the guardrail.
When questioned by police, Shaw initially denied that she had a cellphone in her possession at the time of the crash, and said she did not reenter the bus to radio for help after evacuating.
"I did not want to go back on the bus because it was hanging over the highway," Shaw allegedly said.
However, according to the affidavit, Shaw admitted that she did in fact have a cellphone when police heard it ringing in her purse while she was being treated at St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Brighton.
Police reviewed surveillance video, which showed Shaw apparently holding what appeared to be a cellphone in her left hand and an unidentified item in her right hand while operating the bus, the affidavit states.
After the crash, surveillance allegedly shows Shaw did in fact reenter the bus to retrieve an item from the ground, according to the affidavit.
In 2009, the MBTA enacted a banned operators from possessing electronic devices while on the job. Police said Shaw's phone had no record of calls or text messages after 5:30 a.m.