Chicago Family Shares Story After Settlement in Lawsuit Over Deadly Bus Crash

They hope their story prompts change to prevent another tragedy

NBCUniversal Media, LLC

The family of a Chicago woman killed in a paratransit bus crash has settled a lawsuit with PACE and SCR Medical Transportation.

In August, 2021, 68-year-old Brenda Burse was a passenger on a bus that crossed lanes of oncoming traffic, left the road, and crashed into a tree. The driver, Joe McKee, admitted to police on the scene that he fell asleep behind the wheel.

"If simple safety rules and regulations would have been followed this disaster could have been averted. He never should have been behind the wheel," said the family's attorney, Marc Taxman.

In the lawsuit, McKee is accused of a previous crash months prior due to his sleep apnea. Taxman says PACE, nor its subcontracted partner, SCR Medical, screened or kept track of McKee's ability to drive.

"He had fallen asleep before behind the wheel on May 15, 2021, exactly three months before this tragic occurrence," said Taxman.

McKee was suspended but not fired, according to the lawsuit.

"He was immediately put back on the road on July 29, 2021, without any system in place to monitor whether his condition of apnea was being treated," said Taxman.

In police body camera video, provided to NBC 5 by the law firm Taxman, Pollock, Murray & Bekkerman, LLC, McKee admits to police he used cocaine and was drinking the night prior to the deadly crash.

The civil lawsuit was settled for $13 million.

"It helps [with closure], but the feeling is still there. The love is still there," said Willie Burse, the victim's husband.

The pair had just celebrated their 53rd wedding anniversary. Burse was on her way home from church at the time of the crash.

 "She was a churchgoing woman, loved church. [She was] raised in the church, wouldn’t miss church," said Burse of his wife.

Burse said he wasn't notified about the crash for hours. By the time he and their daughter, Amelia, made it to the hospital, it was too late.

"It could have bene prevented," said Amelia Burse. "The next chance I got to see her was the day of her funeral."

 "She was my best friend. I could talk to her about anything," she added. "It hurts really bad."

The family said they are sharing their story in hopes of preventing future tragedies. Amelia Burse wants stricter policies to be enforced for drivers.

"Just follow the rules that are there. Do what’s right. Put yourself in that person's situation of having trust in you to take them where they need to go."

In a statement to NBC 5, a spokesperson for PACE said "Pace has learned that the family of Brenda Burse and SCR were able to come to a resolution."

"Pace extends its sincere condolences to the family of Mrs. Burse," the statement read. "It is our understanding that SCR fired McKee on 8-16-2021."

SCR Medical did not return NBC 5's request for comment, nor did the attorney representing McKee in the civil case.

Criminal charges against McKee are still pending.

In a statement to NBC 5, a spokesperson for the Cook County State's Attorney's office said, after reviewing information provided by police, "we concluded that the evidence was insufficient to meet our burden of proof to approve felony charges." 

"As prosecutors, we have an ethical obligation to review the facts, evidence, and law in each case and only bring charges when there is sufficient evidence to support a charge," the statement read. "We will continue to work with the Chicago Police Department and will review any new evidence that becomes available. Mr. McKee was charged by CPD with traffic violations and those matters are pending."

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