How much crashes by government employees cost taxpayers

Some accidents are by repeat offenders

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - If county or city employees get in accidents while driving and it’s their fault, your tax dollars pay to settle it.

Tierra Clay found that out one day when she was a passenger on a Palm Tran Bus. She was thrown forward when the bus slammed into the back of a car.

"I just remember his car flying forward, it was scary," Clay said. “It was shocking to see it happen.”

The wreck cost her two weeks off work. It cost taxpayers more than $36,000.

“I had a sprained wrist, a neck injury and a back injury,” Clay said.

The Contact 5 Investigators uncovered that this was not the driver’s first crash.

Just four months before, he was involved in another rear-end collision.

Palm Beach County administrators say with so many drivers on the road, accidents will happen.

“In any given day we have 2,265 vehicles on the road,” said Brad Merriman, Palm Beach County’s Assistant County Administrator.

The Contact 5 Investigators reviewed accident claims for 17 different agencies in South Florida and discovered over the past decade government crashes have cost taxpayers more than $12,000,000.

“It's a shame because there's really no accountability," said Greg Buck with National Risk Experts of Palm Beach Gardens.

“Dollar for dollar, whatever's taken out to pay a claim, it's typically going to come out of the taxpayer's pocket,” Buck explained.

Here are some other recent accidents:
• $18,000 because a Delray Beach worker forgot to properly lower the ladder on a fire truck.
• $62,000 when a Palm Beach paramedic struck the back of a camper on the way to a call.
• Animals, especially wild hogs crossing the road, have led to $21,000 in damages at the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office
• $7,600 when a St. Lucie County Sheriff's deputy hit someone's car after taking his "eyes off the road to look for a pack of cigarettes."

County documents show when the same deputy that crashed when reaching for a pack of cigarettes was pulling his sheriff’s car out of his driveway at home and hit his personal car, taxpayers paid for that too.

“For the most part with the number of people and number of miles, we do pretty well," said Chief Deputy Garry Wilson with the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office.  “We try to make sure those don't happen very often. They're paid for by the department, but again, those are usually minor in nature."

Discipline varied for those employees involved in the accidents we uncovered. Punishment ranged from a written reprimand to losing the take-home car for two weeks.

As for the driver of the Palm Tran bus, he still drives his bus.

Tierra Clay saw him a year after her crash.

“I was just like 'wow, he still drives buses,' ” Clay said.

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