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Holbrook crash demonstrates value of cameras on T buses

Posted on October 15, 2009

Story credited to: Jack Nicas, Boston Globe.

When Susan Brown allegedly fell asleep at the wheel Monday and hit an MBTA bus, it was not immediately clear what had happened. But as in many other incidents involving motorists, passengers, and possible crime suspects over the past two years, cameras on the bus captured Brown’s actions.

“The video has changed the way we conduct investigations and has vastly improved our ability to identify suspects and solve crimes,’’ said Paul MacMillan, police chief of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.

In a video released yesterday by the MBTA, Brown’s Chevy Malibu crosses the median line for approximately four seconds before hitting a MBTA bus head-on in Holbrook.

As compelling as the footage is to most, transit police see it as an important tool. “I’ll tell you, there isn’t a day that goes by that we don’t use them,’’ Transit Police Sergeant Ken Sprague, said of the cameras.

Approximately 350 buses of the MBTA fleet of 1,100 are equipped with eight cameras each, providing views inside the bus, in front, and on either side. Some MBTA subway cars and stations also have video cameras.

In many incidents involving buses, video can help implicate some people and vindicate others.

Sprague said the footage showed that the bus driver in Monday’s crash was not at fault and that Brown probably fell asleep. He said Brown appears to be slumped down before impact. She was cited with failure to stay within marked lanes.

Brown could not be reached yesterday for comment.

Surveillance footage from a bus also led to the arrest of five individuals yesterday morning, each charged with assault by means of a dangerous weapon. Four were taped Sept. 9 showing brandishing knives on an bus in Boston.

The footage has also helped solve crimes not committed on MBTA buses. Transit police receive outside requests for footage nearly every day, MacMillan said.

“If the individual came on the MBTA after the crime, we may be able to identify them,’’ he said. Plus, cameras pointing outward on either side of buses can catch suspects walking on the sidewalk or accidents yards away, Sprague said.

The revelations are not all bad, though. Video from Monday’s accident shows a man hopping off the bus to aid Brown. He helped her to the sidewalk and called police with his cellphone.

Brown, 54, of Whitman, was taken to South Shore Hospital in Weymouth with injuries that were not life-threatening and remained there through last night, a hospital official said.

A 12-year-old female passenger on the bus was taken to Caritas Good Samaritan Medical Center in Brockton with minor injuries and later released, Sprague said.

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