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Family of woman killed by Metro bus is suing parent organization SORTA, driver

woman holds a baby on her lap
Cooper Elliott
Beverly Kinney with her great grandson.

The family of a woman struck and killed by a Metro bus in January say the driver never should have been allowed behind the wheel. They've filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority seeking the agency to undergo reforms so a similar incident doesn't occur.

Family members of Beverly Kinney say driver Deon Willis had a long list of driving violations that should have prevented him from being employed by Metro. Willis is also named in the lawsuit. Kinney was in a crosswalk with the walk signal illuminated when Willis struck her on Jan. 11. Video footage from the bus shows she was clearly visible to the driver as they both waited for the light to turn, and as she entered the crosswalk.

"Willis had a driving history that shouldn't have permitted him behind the wheel of a golf cart, let alone a city bus," said attorney Rex Elliott. "Deon Willis was fired from two driving jobs for violating safety rules before he joined Metro. He had six license suspensions, at least nine crashes (before driving for SORTA) and five other crashes since driving for SORTA, not to mention a lengthy history of driving citations."

Elliott also points out Willis ran a red light while driving a Metro bus in 2018, striking 24-year-old DeCarlo Fowler. According to the lawsuit, Fowler spent two months in a coma and must use a wheelchair because he never regained mobility on the left side of his body, and has a feeding tube.

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"It is inconceivable why SORTA ever allowed this person behind the wheel of a 13-ton city bus. SORTA should have known he was unfit to drive a Metro bus as they were training him even back in the spring of 2018," Elliott continued. "These are some of the comments during his training session: He said, 'I've got tunnel vision.' That raised a huge concern. 'Unnecessary wide turns. Needs to work on turns. Does not multitask well. Does not stay focused, very easily distracted. He kept getting close to cars after I repeatedly asked him not to.' "

Willis was arrested and is facing five misdemeanor counts of vehicular manslaughter. His bench trial was scheduled to start Monday but proceedings are delayed to July 8.

“Our deepest sympathies go out to the Kinney family for the tragic loss of Mrs. Kinney," writes SORTA in a statement to WVXU. "Due to litigation, we are not able to comment on any specifics related to the incident at this time.

The statement continues, "After receiving the results of the police investigation and the charges brought against Mr. Willis, our internal investigation is now in its final stages."

Kinney's husband, Ed Cloughessy, said his feelings of pain, sorrow, loneliness and anger haven't abated. Her son, Jeff Kinney, added he hopes to be able to forgive Willis some day, but he doesn't think he'll be able to forgive the management at SORTA.

"We're just asking them to put in reasonable policies and follow them so something like this never happens again. It's unconscionable that they've allowed this person to continue to drive a bus," Kinney said. "We've asked for a lot of things. We've asked for them to make public the statistics ... in terms of other drivers. We just want them to have the same level of care for the people of Cincinnati that we do for our mother and never want to have another family have to go through this."

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The suit asks that SORTA voluntarily undergo an independent audit of its policies and procedures for hiring, training and retaining drivers, and make public the findings. It is also asking for a financial judgement, which the family say they will put into a charitable fund.

At age 87, Kinney was still very active in the community and volunteered for numerous charities and organizations, including Cincinnati Public Radio.

Senior Editor and reporter at WVXU with more than 20 years experience in public radio; formerly news and public affairs producer with WMUB. Would really like to meet your dog.