San Mateo County

‘I Just Killed Someone': SamTrans Ignores Headlights Warnings, Bus Drivers 

The Investigative Unit spoke to 15 bus operators driving for SamTrans through MV Transportation. All but two say they have trouble driving at night on dark roads due to headlight issues.

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Sol Gloria went missing from her San Mateo home on June 28, 2022. It was a cold night, and she had just celebrated her husband’s 71st birthday with their daughter, Jerushah Gloria.

“When I opened the [bedroom] door, she was gone,” said Jerushah. “I kept thinking, she’s probably so cold right now.”

Sol had dementia and would sometimes lose her sense of place and direction, according to Jerushah. She said her mother left the home when she was in the shower and her father was visiting a family member. The family filed a missing person’s report with San Mateo police as soon as they realized she was missing.

Sol Gloria was 78 years old when she was hit and killed by a SamTrans bus on June 29, 2022. Her daughter holds up her picture.

The 78-year-old pastor wife and mother somehow traveled more than 9 miles down El Camino Real from San Mateo towards Menlo Park-Atherton.

Around 1:20 a.m., Sol was struck by a SamTrans bus while walking in the middle of El Camino Real near Menlo College. She passed away a short time later at Stanford Hospital.

“I just killed someone,” Jimmy Maerina recalls from that night. “I have nightmares. I lost weight. I couldn’t eat. I was dehydrated.”

Maerina was the bus driver behind the wheel that night. Months after the accident, he called the Investigative Unit to speak about it for the first time.

“[SamTrans has] to change those headlights. The headlights are the main issue here,” he said.

The headlights are the main issue here...Been warning [my supervisors] for about two years now.

Jimmy Maerina, bus operator

According to the crash report, Gloria was at fault for the collision for walking in the middle of the dark road right before she was hit. But Maerina believes if he was able to see Gloria earlier, he might have had more time to react and possibly avoid her.

“I think about the family she left behind,” he said.

The Investigative Unit asked Maerina if he had reported this problem with bus headlights to his agency before.

“I have, numerous times. Been warning them for about two years now,” he responded.

Maerina said those warnings were to his supervisors at MV Transportation, a private transit company SamTrans contracts with to operate some of its fleet.

After the crash, Maerina said he elevated his concerns to SamTrans through a legal claim that stated, “For years before that day, the buses that [Maerina] was required to drive on the streets of San Mateo County were dangerous and defective in that they provided insufficient illumination.”

Last month, SamTrans rejected the claim.

Maerina's legal claim to SamTrans. The transit agency rejected the claim last month.

The Investigative Unit independently rode a different SamTrans bus down the same route Maerina drove the night of the accident. NBC Bay Area's team rode the bus after 1 a.m. to get a sense of similar conditions. That stretch of El Camino Real southbound before Valparaiso Avenue is very dark. That side, which borders a residential area, has far fewer streetlights than the northbound side. Watching SamTrans buses pass by, some operated by SamTrans and others by MV Transportation, it was notable that bus headlights vary in color and brightness. Some appear to be brighter, white lights while others appear to be dimmer, yellow lights.

SamTrans declined an interview for this report but said in an email: "The facts of the case do not support the claim that headlights played any role in the collision."

After NBC Bay Area sent multiple requests for an interview, MV Transportation never responded to the requests, and SamTrans CEO and General Manager April Chan declined to talk on camera. She sent the following statement:

"Safety is always our highest priority, and we maintain rigorous standards for our vehicles and operators. This includes industry standard specifications for vehicles we purchase and daily checks for every vehicle by operators both before and after use. These daily checks include inspection of headlights. Our training and protocol require that bus operators report any issue with the bus to their transportation supervisor, including the functionality of bus headlights. It is important to note that our headlights meet industry standard requirements and are either LED or HID light bulbs, or a combination of both, neither of which dim over time like older types of light bulbs."

Maerina disagrees there’s nothing wrong with the headlights on SamTrans buses operated by MV Transportation.

“They’re not concerned about the safety of the public. They’re just concerned about putting the buses out there,” he said.

In response to his accident, Maerina says MV Transportation sent a memo out to its bus drivers telling them to “use high beams, whenever you can. Especially at night on El Camino.” The memo acknowledged “there are many sections that are dark.”

Maerina says high beams shouldn’t be a solution and could blind oncoming cars. When the Investigative Unit asked about the memo, MV Transportation never responded, and SamTrans said the memo wasn’t authorized. The agency had their contractor remove it because it didn’t follow protocol.

MV Transportation's memo to its bus operators after the fatal accident. SamTrans had MV remove the memo.

Maerina is not the only bus operator with these concerns.

Over the phone and at a recent union meeting, the Investigative Unit talked to 15 bus operators who drive for SamTrans through MV Transportation. All but two said they have experienced difficulty driving at night due to headlight brightness and/or alignment issues.

“I [am] very sure [that] more incidents or accidents are coming. You no change the lights, big trouble,” bus operator Oscar Aguilar said.

“If there is nothing done to those headlights, what we complained about, I’m not going back,” said Maerina.

Jerushah and her father Ernesto Gloria are grateful Maerina has come forward with his explanation. They say SamTrans never contacted them. Samtrans says that’s because the agency was unclear who the surviving family members were, and the agency didn’t have their names and contact information.

Sol Gloria with her daughter, Jerushah.

“Their silence is deafening. They’re making me feel like my mom’s life was worthless,” Jerushah said.

Bus 448, the bus involved in the accident, is currently back in service after standard inspection and maintenance, according to SamTrans.

Candice Nguyen is the investigative reporter on this story. If you want to reach out about this story or another, email her at

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