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Police investigate pills held by driver in fatal Butler County bus crash

| Thursday, May 2, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

The driver of a bus struck by a freight train at an Evans City rail crossing on Friday had pills that didn't match the labels of the bottles they were in, according to a copy of a police search warrant obtained by the Tribune-Review.

Frank Schaffner's attorney said Wednesday that his client told him that the pills were not prescription medication that would impair his driving ability.

“It's my understanding that his toxicology results should come back clean,” attorney Michael Pawk of Butler said.

Pawk said Shaffner told him that the pills were fiber supplements and TUMS.

The attorney said he was not allowing Schaffner to talk with the media.

Schaffner, 59, of Butler Township, was driving the Butler Area Rural Transit bus with 10 senior or physically disabled passengers when a train hit it at the Maple Avenue rail crossing in heavy fog. Police have not charged Schaffner.

The crash killed Claudette Miller, 91, of Callery, and injured nine other passengers and Schaffner. The impact lifted the bus and tossed it into a ravine.

Evans City Police Chief Joseph McCombs said Schaffner hasn't talked to investigators. McCombs refused to discuss the pills police found. Authorities are awaiting test results from Schaffner's blood.

“We're not letting anything go at this point,” McCombs said.

McCombs said his department likely would release a statement about the status of the investigation early next week.

Hours after the crash, police obtained a search warrant to draw blood from Schaffner to test “for presence and concentration of alcohol or controlled substances,” Evans City police Officer Trina Loesch wrote.

In the warrant, Loesch wrote that after the crash, “The actor (Schaffner) also had in his possession two pill bottles that contained various pills that did not match the labeling on the bottles.”

McCombs said at least three people remain in Pittsburgh hospitals. Two were in critical condition.

The three-member crew of the 31-car freight train, which was hauling asphalt, told police that Schaffner's bus was stopped on the railroad tracks at the fog-shrouded crossing.

The crew said they blew the train's whistle as a warning as they approached. Federal officials said the train adhered to the 25 mph speed limit.

Pawk said Schaffner said he had stopped before crossing the tracks, and was crossing it slowly when the train hit. Pawk added that a witness said the train crew did not blow a warning whistle until just moments before the crash.

The rail crossing, which police said is used infrequently, does not have gates or warning signals.

Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or bvidonic@tribweb.com.

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