PORTLAND -- A TriMet bus driver on paid leave and under investigation for reading a Kindle while driving was fired Wednesday.
This afternoon, TriMet terminated the operator who was videotaped reading a Kindle while driving a Line 96 bus, agency spokeswoman Mary Fetsch said in a prepared statement.
A passenger used his cell phone to videotape Qouchbane as he drove down I-5 through the Terwilliger curves on Thursday, September 16. In the roughly 60-second video, the electronic reader can clearly be seen on his dashboard.
Operator Lahcen Qouchbane was terminated for posing an immediate threat to public safety and violation of district policy, Fetsch said.
Qouchbane began driving for TriMet in 2000. He was first fired in 2006 for contact with a customer that constituted posing an immediate threat to public safety, according to spokeswoman Bekki Witt.
He filed a grievance after the firing and through mediation was given his job back in October, 2007. He did get a 30-day suspension, she said Tuesday.
Qouchbane also once had a pending suspension of his Oregon driver's license for traffic citations in his personal vehicle, she said. He was able to resolve that without affecting his Commercial Driver's License, or CDL.
In the Kindle video, Qouchbane's eyes appear to continually glance down toward the reader. He seldom has both hands on the wheel and, at one point, is steering with just an elbow. At another point, he appears to reach down to the dashboard and flip a page.
The passenger who videotaped him told KGW that, without question, Qouchbane was reading.
Qouchbane's lawyer, Jonah Paisner, told KGW last week that his client was not reading and that the several passengers who complained provided only their side.
Witt added Tuesday that prior to the reader incident, Qouchbane was given clear, direct communication from his supervisor that he was not to use any electronic device while driving a bus.
Shelly Lomax, the agency's Executive Director for Operations, sent out a letter to a operators Tuesday. It read in part:
I know that the vast majority of TriMet operators are appalled by the continued use of electronic devices while operating a TriMet vehicle, and many are embarrassed by the media attention related to these lapses in good judgment.
We have been talking about the dangers of using electronic devices at TriMet for years. It is disheartening that for a small number of employees, the message is not getting through. Even worse, the few who continue to ignore the laws and policies have caused the public to broadly paint TriMet operators as people who do not care about safety -- which I know could not be further from the truth.