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CTA settles bus death case for $4.3 million

For years after Martha Gonzalez was struck and killed while crossing a street in Pilsen, family and friends believed she was hit by two vehicles — first a car that fled the scene and then a CTA bus.

Based on some witness accounts, a $10,000 reward for information about the hit-and-run driver was offered in the Oct. 13, 2009, accident. Two years later, when the 1700 block of South Halsted was designated “Martha Gonzalez Place,” some still worried that a dangerous hit-and-run driver was on the loose.

On Wednesday, the CTA board agreed to pay a $4.3 million settlement after attorneys for the Gonzalez family contended the CTA’s own bus video proves no car hit Gonzalez, who was then 36 and the mother of two.

A camera in the back of the bus showed Gonzalez walking legally in the pedestrian crosswalk next to the bus seconds before it knocked her to the ground, said attorneys Thomas Power and Kathryn Conway. No car is in sight, although one may have driven quickly through the intersection of 18th Street and Halsted just before the accident, Power said.

A still image from a CTA bus camera shows Martha Gonzalez walking near the bus just before she was hit and killed.

A still image from a CTA bus camera shows Martha Gonzalez walking near the bus just before she was hit and killed. | Provided

“Police for days, and maybe months, were looking for the car that hit her,” Power said. ”For the longest time, everybody thought a car hit her. There was a big manhunt for this car.”

“We reviewed numerous cameras from that area, at 18th and Halsted, as well as CTA videos. And there was no car in the intersection at the time she was struck.”

Video from the back of the bus, though fleeting, “clearly shows her walking next to the bus just prior to impact,” Power said. An animation later pieced together by Power’s experts indicates that as the bus turned, the side of the bus knocked Gonzalez to the ground and the vehicle then rolled over her.

Power said that about two months after he alerted CTA attorneys what their own bus video showed, the CTA agreed to take the wrongful-death suit to arbitration. That case moved one step further Wednesday.

“The CTA believes it is in the best interest of the agency to settle the suit, in order to avoid a protracted and costly trial process,” CTA spokeswoman Tammy Chase said in an emailed statement.

Due to “conflicting reports” of what happened and that the police never cited the bus operator, bus driver Frankie Myles was not disciplined, Chase said. Myles has since retired, she said.

Also around two months ago, Power said, he showed Gonzalez’s family and her longtime boyfriend the CTA video, as well as the expert animation depicting the accident. Finally, Power said, the family was convinced a car had not struck Gonzalez.

Gonzalez’s longtime boyfriend, Andrew Kudelka, said Wednesday that needed improvements were made to the intersection after Gonzalez’s death, including installing a pedestrian walk signal that activates before the traffic signal for cars turns green. Gonzalez, a Spanish-English language translator and flight attendant, also was remembered at one point with an art tribute.

“There’s a little bit of closure there,” Kudelka said Wednesday. “But nothing makes up for the fact that she’s not here.”