PACE to pay $13M settlement for passenger's death from 2021 crash after driver fell asleep at wheel

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Monday, March 27, 2023
PACE to pay $13M settlement for passenger's death in 2021 crash
PACE Suburban Bus will pay a $13 million settlement after one of its drivers crashed a paratransit bus, causing the death of a disabled woman onboard.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- PACE Suburban Bus will have to pay $13 million in settlement money after one of its drivers crashed a paratransit bus, killing a disabled woman who was onboard.

The crash happened in August of 2021 when family members say Brenda Burse was on her way home from church. Relatives said the bus collided with a tree near Lexington and Lockwood along I-290 in Austin.

The 68-year-old died from her injuries at the hospital. Her family's attorney said the driver fell asleep behind the wheel.

New video shows the driver apparently nodding off before the crash. A civil lawsuit filed after the crash identifies the driver as Joe McKee.

"This is surreal that this is happening to me," said Amelia Burse, daughter. "I'm pretty sure that was going through her mind."

The family, who said the pain of her death is still fresh, reached the settlement with PACE and its contractor SCR.

Attorneys said McKee had a known and troubling driving history that had resulted in a suspension in May 2021.

"He had fallen asleep before behind the wheel," said attorney Marc A. Taxman.

Burse's attorney also claims McKee had stayed up late the night before the fatal crash three months later.

"Literally partying because he was happy to have received his job back," said Taxman.

Attorney said the driver admitted to officers he suffers from sleep apnea and dozed off at the wheel.

"The driver of this SCR and PACE paratransit bus was put on the road when he was a known danger," Taxman said.

In a statement, PACE says it "extends its sincere condolences to the family of Mrs. Burse. For all other questions, please contact SCR."

ABC7 has reached out to SCR but have not heard back.

Burse's family hopes the settlement will prevent another life from being cut short.

"I'm looking forward to seeing that they take it very seriously when it comes to individual lives, that their safety does matter," Amelia Burse said.

The Cook County State's Attorney's Office said they will not bring criminal charges against McKee, but police did charge him with traffic violations.

Full statement from the Cook County State's Attorney's Office

After a thorough review of the information presented to us by police, we concluded that the evidence was insufficient to meet our burden of proof to approve felony charges. As prosecutors, we have an ethical obligation to review the facts, evidence, and law in each case and only bring charges when there is sufficient evidence to support a charge. We will continue to work with the Chicago Police Department and will review any new evidence that becomes available. Mr. McKee was charged by CPD with traffic violations and those matters are pending.