The Cover Story

Transit bus is battered

By Karen Clark

Sentinel staff writer

PLEASURE POINT - A powerful wave smashed into a Metro bus on East Cliff Drive late Friday morning, cascading over the vehicle and soaking its stunned occupants.

"It was coming in fast and huge," said Dan Rhodes, a Pleasure Point resident who was taking pictures of the unusually large waves at Moran Lake surfing the bus when the bus happened along. "We were all jumping up and down screaming. I t was neat."

It wasn't so neat for those inside the bus, said driver Sharon Hightower.

"It was quite a scary incident because the force of the wave was so strong I thought it would knock the bus over," said Hightower, whose driven the route to Capitola Mall many times without seeing waves that high. " Everyone were in shock."

The bus's windows were open enough on the seaward side to get its 11 occupants, including Hightower, wet to varying degrees. Puddles of seawater and sand remained on the floor after she pulled the bus to a stop.

Adding to the problem facing Hightower was the fact that the powerful waves threw several large boulders into the bus. One was trapped underneath, scrapping along the road until Hightower pulled to a stop.

"It definitely rocked the bus," said Hightower, who has worked for the Santa Cruz Metropolitian Transit District for nearly two years. "I looked out on the right side and I couldn't see anything but water."

Judy Souza, acting director of operations, said she doesn't remember such a thing happening to a bus in her 24 years with the district.

"When she called it in, I shouted, 'She said what,' " said Souza. "Other drivers were just as surprised."

Moran Lake on East Cliff Drive is located between 26th and 30th avenues. It has been the site of big waves before, but Friday's huge surge at about 11:40 a.m. was impressive.

"I've seen it come over the road, but I've never seen it clobber a bus," said Rhodes. "That's pretty cool."

Coast Guard Petty Officer andrew Palmer, stationed in Monterey, said the unusual waves spotted Friday were the results of high tide lines that were about six feet above normal, coupled with swells up to 23 feet created by a series of incoming storms.

"It's all creating unusually high waves," said Palmer.

Rick Canepa, a meterologist with the National Weather Service in Monterey, said the wave that hit the bus might have been the result of "a grouping of swells that hit the coast just right to form to form a huge, crashing wave. ... It sounds to me like the bus was in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Once the rock was dislodged from under her bus, Hightower resumed her route to the mall, although at that point the bus was taken out of service for a check-up and thorough cleaning. Hightower also got a break to caaalm her nerves.

"I'm just glad everyone was so calm," she said.