2 reckless driving crashes in Milwaukee County damage buses

Crashes lead to 2 deaths, injuries to passengers and bus drivers

An aerial view of a city bus in Milwaukee turning through an intersection.
A Milwaukee bus turns a corner at an intersection in the city. Potential budget cuts to Milwaukee County’s bus system could mean thousands of riders across the county would lose service. Photo courtesy of the Milwaukee County Transit System

Milwaukee County officials say two recent crashes involving county buses were caused by reckless drivers. 

Several passengers on both buses and one bus driver were sent to the hospital for their injuries, and the crashes resulted in more than $2 million in damages. Another county bus was damaged by a fire over the weekend due to “mechanical issues.”

Reckless driving is an issue local leaders have been wrestling with for years. During a recent press conference, Milwaukee County Transit System President Denise Wandke said the crashes could have been avoided.

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“I just don’t understand going 100 or…80-miles-an-hour, down city streets, running red lights — I just don’t know why people think that that’s OK or that it’s not going to leave a huge impact on somebody somewhere along the line,” Wandke said.

“I don’t know how to stop it … I don’t know how many people have to die before somebody finally says, ‘You know what, this is just stupid,’” she added.

Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley also spoke out about the incidents. This, as other recent reckless driving crashes have left community leaders grasping for answers.

“Reckless driving has reached crisis levels in Milwaukee County,” Crowley said in a statement. 

The first crash occurred the night of April 18, when a driver ran a red light at a “high rate of speed,” hitting a county bus and injuring the three passengers onboard and the driver of the bus, according to a statement from the Milwaukee Police Department. The driver who ran the red light died at the scene. 

The other crash occurred the night of April 20, when a driver hit another vehicle and a county bus, injuring seven passengers on the bus, according to police. A passenger in the vehicle of the reckless driver died at the scene. The driver was arrested on the scene, police said.

Wandke said they were able to watch surveillance video from other bus stops that showed the driver weaving in and out of traffic and speeding before the crash occurred. 

The crashes cost the county more than $2 million. One crash involved a clean diesel bus, which costs $650,000 to replace. The other crash involved a newer Battery Electric Bus, which costs $1.6 million to replace.

Wandke stressed the impact of losing buses during a time when Milwaukee’s transportation system is dealing with budget cuts.

“We do not have a surplus of buses available to replace these two buses. This means fewer buses to serve MCTS’s 44 routes,” Wandke said in a statement. 

Reckless driving in Milwaukee has been described as a crisis, an epidemic and a plague. A recent Wisconsin Policy Forum report found traffic fatalities across Wisconsin, not including Milwaukee County, fell by approximately 36.1 percent from 2002 to 2022. In Milwaukee County, they increased by 113.5 percent during that same time period.

“We must invest in proven solutions to make our roads and neighborhoods safer. Enough is enough,” Crowley said in a statement. “We must continue working together to end reckless driving, stop crashes and traffic violence and save lives.”

The city plans to spend around $86 million on street safety projects this year. Local leaders are also trying to curb the problem by passing ordinances and working with state lawmakers to create harsher penalties for offenders.

“We appreciate Milwaukee County and the City of Milwaukee’s efforts to calm traffic. But in the end, it’s up to drivers to ensure the streets remain safe for everyone,” Wandke said.