FOLLOWUP: West Seattle-bound C Line driver dies after heart attack on Viaduct; Sam Williams, 63, was a performer too

3:24 PM: Late last night, we reported on a medical emergency that left a RapidRide C Line bus stalled on the southbound Alaskan Way Viaduct and sent its driver to the hospital. As promised, we followed up with Metro this morning. The driver, they just told us, did not make it. Here’s the full news release that resulted from our inquiry:

A Metro Transit operator suffered a fatal heart attack late Thursday while driving a RapidRide C Line on the Alaskan Way Viaduct, just south of Columbia Street. Passengers on board were able to help bring the bus to a safe stop and call 9-1-1. No passengers were injured.

The incident was reported about 11:17 p.m. The driver, Sam Williams, 63, was traveling south when he said he was experiencing a heart attack and became semiconscious. Passengers noticed the bus swerving at slow speeds and quickly rushed to Williams’ aid. One passenger was able to help bring the bus to a stop in the outside lane – about six inches from the viaduct’s guardrail. Other passengers helped unbuckle the driver and remove him from his seat, and began performing CPR. A retired Auburn police officer who was driving behind the bus stopped his vehicle and helped provide aid until first responders arrived.

Williams was pronounced deceased after being transported to Harborview Medical Center.

“Those who ride Metro Transit know there is a sense of community on the bus, between passengers and drivers,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine. “When an incident occurs, people step up to help one another. The passengers on Sam Williams’ route exemplify the best of who we are as a region.”

“Our drivers care deeply about their passengers’ safety and comfort. We are grateful to the passengers who rushed to help Sam as soon as it was clear that he needed medical help. Sam will be missed by his friends, family, coworkers, and those who rode on his bus each day.”

“Many of us are grieving today over the loss of Sam Williams, a dedicated Metro operator for the last six years,” said Metro General Manager Rob Gannon. “I thank the passengers whose quick action to safely stop the bus prevented this from becoming an even greater tragedy.”

Williams started as a part-time operator in 2010. He achieved full-time status in 2014.

4:32 PM: We’ve learned more about Mr. Williams thanks to commenter Kelly, who informs us he was a juggler with the famous Flying Karamazov Brothers troupe. We’ve been researching his background and among other things found this podcast interview published earlier this month.

9:50 PM: Photo of Mr. Williams added above (courtesy John Cornicello). There are more tributes to him in the comments below, as well as a link to this video of a memorable TV appearance one commenter mentioned – Mr. Williams and the other Flying Karamazov Brothers teaching “Mister Rogers” how to juggle. On the group’s Facebook page, this tribute:

We are heartbroken to tell you that Sam Williams, aka Smerdyakov Karamazov, has gone on and joined the choir invisible. It was never publicly admitted, but we can all admit that he’s always been the funniest K, and his passing leaves a major hole in the world. Today is a very sad day. RIP.

Give someone a hug and tell them you love them.

49 Replies to "FOLLOWUP: West Seattle-bound C Line driver dies after heart attack on Viaduct; Sam Williams, 63, was a performer too"

  • RS November 18, 2016 (3:38 pm)

    So very sad. My condolences to his family.

  • D DelRio November 18, 2016 (3:40 pm)

    I ride that bis all the time; prayers to his or her family!💗💗💗

  • WestCake November 18, 2016 (3:41 pm)

    This is heart breaking. 

  • newnative November 18, 2016 (3:43 pm)

    oh no, so young.  I’m very sorry.  

  • Kelly November 18, 2016 (3:46 pm)

    Sam was a former member of the Flying Karamazov Brothers juggling troupe (playing “Smerdyakov Karamazov”), and  a very funny guy.  He took pride in the fact that he taught TV’s Mister Rogers how to juggle.

    One of the FKB’s classic routines is/was “Jazz Juggling,” in which any dropped pins must be retrieved by the person who dropped it, no matter where it lands.  While chaos ensued around him, he would maintain his rhythm while smirkingly noting out loud, “I’m still juggling.”

    After we became FB friends, I told him that he had inspired me when I drove tough routes that are always behind schedule.  Three route 48s in a row, and I was the one saying to no one in particular, “I’m still driving on time.”  Farewell, Smerdyakov, I hope you’re teaching a few angels up there how to juggle.

  • puget ridge resident November 18, 2016 (3:54 pm)

    So sad, rest in peace, Sam    

  • miws November 18, 2016 (4:47 pm)

    Condolences to Sam’s real life and Metro families….


  • gina November 18, 2016 (4:56 pm)

    Teaching mister rogers to juggle.

    • Silver November 18, 2016 (6:25 pm)

      Thank you for sharing that!

  • Alki Resident November 18, 2016 (5:09 pm)

    I have chills just reading how the passengers took over. Between stopping the bus to starting cpr. You all should be proud. I am very sorry for the loss of your bus driver. He sounded like quite an amazing guy. 

  • Pam Wagner November 18, 2016 (6:11 pm)

    Sam was one of my cousins. We are all heartbroken and in disbelief. He was a kind, jolly, intelligent soul. Many thanks to all who tried to help him.

    • Betsy November 19, 2016 (9:53 am)

      We are just so sorry Pam.   Metro bus drivers are wonderful and I’m sure he was especially so.

  • Elizh November 18, 2016 (6:17 pm)

    Mr. Williams also appeared with the Brothers in the film Jewel of the Nile!

    So sorry to hear about this. I was a big fan of the troupe during their classic era when Mr Williams performed, before they brought in younger substitutes.

  • Silver November 18, 2016 (6:23 pm)

    I dated Sam a couple of times and we became friends. He was indeed a kind and lovely human being. We’ll miss you Sam. 

  • Tom Noddy November 18, 2016 (7:28 pm)

    In recent years Sam performed at and volunteered to do lighting at Seattle’s annual Moisture Festival.  Here is the bio that described him to audiences there:

    • WSB November 18, 2016 (7:51 pm)

      If anyone reading this thread has a photo of Mr. Williams that we could have permission to use with this report … please let me know at … I scanned the Web earlier looking for something that might be open source or from someone I could contact easily to request permission, but no luck … thank you. – TR

      • JohnC November 18, 2016 (9:42 pm)

        Sam was a very fun and funny person. I remember a closing night show where performers were wagering on how long the show would last. Most were in the 2-3 hour range. Sam said 5 hours, then went on stage and said he would continue juggling until those 5 hours were up. I’ll miss him greatly.

        Sam in 2012, backstage at the Moisture Festival 

        So sad…


        • JohnC November 18, 2016 (11:29 pm)

          I’ve posted a photo album of Sam on Facebook at if anyone is interested.


          • Jon November 20, 2016 (1:24 pm)

            Nice album. I only knew him as Sam the Bus Driver. I had no idea he was such an entertainer. Thanks for sharing.

        • Bill Robison November 19, 2016 (3:00 am)

          Thank you John for the awesome photo. 

        • Mike November 19, 2016 (7:24 am)

          I remember seeing clips of Sam when I was a kid, always loved the fun acts and inspired me to learn to juggle.  John Cornicello’s photo really captures that character I remember as a kid, sad to hear he passed.  

  • Seattlite November 18, 2016 (8:07 pm)

    Prayers for Mr. Williams and his family.  Quick thinking by the passengers.

  • Trileigh November 18, 2016 (8:32 pm)

    What a remarkable person was lost last night. These stories about him remind me that we often know so little about people we see every day.

    Sending much appreciation to the “local heroes” on the bus who steered it to safety, gave Sam CPR and helped him in other ways, called 911, gave aid as needed. And sending condolences to his loved ones. 

  • E November 18, 2016 (8:42 pm)

    So sorry for his friends and family. As a long time bus rider I can tell you that he made a huge difference in thousands of peoples everyday lives. A friendly smile and safe travels goes a long way. Glad to hear he had a fun personal life too. 

  • West Seattle since 1979 November 18, 2016 (8:44 pm)

    So sad. R.I.P., Sam.

  • Wsres November 18, 2016 (11:09 pm)

    Years ago I saw him in the Flying Karamozov brothers– so funny and such a fun show. RIP

  • Dale November 18, 2016 (11:39 pm)

    The Lord said it’s time to go Sam, “I have a route to complete. It’s not time”, he said.  It’s taken care of, your covered. No problem said God. “Okay, as long as I have a co-pilot”. You’ve always had a Co-Pilot Sam. 

    • Jon November 19, 2016 (2:57 am)

      No thanks in regards to inappropriate spiritual mumbo-jumbo. If having a Devine Co-Pilot means suffering a fatal heart attack while operating a bus, I’d hate to see what it means to fly solo.

      A human being died while driving a bus full of people. If it weren’t for the acts of other human beings, an entire bus full of people could’ve died (my wife included). And there’d be no need for such nonsense in that case, either.

      It’s not a miracle that this man died; it’s not beautiful nor is it a message from Dad Who Art In Space. Sam seemed like a loveable guy and it’s certainly sad to have someone like that die. Some of us were lucky to not also lose our loved ones to what could’ve been a catastrophic bus crash. Please just leave it at that. You don’t know that he or his family was religious. It’s wholly inappropriate.

  • Jileen Russell November 19, 2016 (12:11 am)

    Oh Sam! You gave me so much laughter when I needed it the most.

    To Sam’s children: You chose very well.

    Jileen Russell

  • Robyn A November 19, 2016 (1:58 am)

    The kindest, funniest, sweetest man I know.  We will all miss you so much. 

  • Robyn A November 19, 2016 (2:01 am)

    Sam was a man of many talents.  Here is a link to the Real Food Show he co-wrote. It is a show to teach kids in a comedic/circus way to eat healthy. 

  • Bill Robison November 19, 2016 (2:49 am)

    OH CRAP. Not you Sam. Dammit. Now I’m really sad. So many great times at the Moisture Festival and beyond. You were a very, very dear man. Just. Dammit.

  • flimflam November 19, 2016 (8:58 am)

     great job by those who safely puled the bus over and tried to save this man – it must have been intense and very frightening.

  • Sandy November 19, 2016 (9:56 am)

    This man was hilarious and kind and will be very much missed.  

  • unknown November 19, 2016 (11:05 am)

    @Jon & Dale…everyone sees death in different ways and yes Dale’s religious comment may had been inappropriate  to you and maybe Sam’s family but it wasn’t to him and we all feel to comment here so no need to be so harsh towards Jon.

    I didn’t know Sam but my sincere condolences to Sam’s family and friends in their loss and a great but scary job to the people that helped Sam and also get the bus to a safe stop without more harm to the people on board. 

    • Jon November 20, 2016 (1:18 pm)

      That’s all well and good, but non-religious people don’t seem to ever make it a point to swoop in on tragic events, attempting to speak for the dead, et cetera. It’s simply inappropriate and distasteful. And that’s all I have to say on the matter.

  • KD November 19, 2016 (11:13 am)

    As a Metro Driver, co-worker of Sam’s, a West Seattleite and C-line Rapid Ride driver.. I am deeply moved and grateful for all the passengers that jumped into action and took over and probably gave comfort of what they could for his final moments. I might even recognize these amazing folks if I saw them some day. THANKYOU! THANKYOU!! We at Metro are very grateful for you.. it is so touching. 

  • Michael Waldo November 19, 2016 (12:04 pm)

    I first met Sam in the early 70’s. He was part of a street juggling troupe that performed at Pike Place market when the old Stage One Theater, which I was part of,  was in Post alley. Also, performed with them at the first Bumbershoot festival. He always made me smile. One Reel also got there start there. I had fun once playing the fife with the troupe. I last saw Sam at the Oregon Country fair where he performed with the  Flying Karamazov brothers many a summer. A gentle and kind spirit who will be missed.

  • Flip Breskin November 19, 2016 (1:00 pm)

    Sam was such a hero! He not only managed to say to  his passengers that he was having a heart attack, he managed to get his foot on the brake and slow the bus down till others could take over. He kept thinking of others his whole life. This is so like the man I knew and loved.

  • Holly November 19, 2016 (3:04 pm)

    I was on a bus with him driving earlier in the night (around 6 from downtown, his first shift of the night) and coming up Alaska toward the junction he swerved into another lane and took a cars side mirror off. I wonder if the two events were somehow related (either he wasn’t feeling totally well earlier in the night, or the stress of the earlier event put additional pressure on his system). Very sad. 

  • Bonnie Margolis November 20, 2016 (10:31 am)

    I feel very blessed that my path crossed Sam’s on FB . He was ‘old school’ kind, caring, compassionate, gentle…and always an open channel for lovingkindness made visceral on the planet. I will so miss you….and hope others will resolve to be a bit kinder to one another in the wake of our loss of you here, Sam.   Love from Stamford, CT xoxo

  • Paula November 20, 2016 (1:05 pm)

    Sam and I went to Chief Sealth High School (he graduated in 1971). We both loved being in plays, but Sam was quite shy. When the casting call went out for a juggler for Once Upon a Mattress Sam decided that, Yes! Indeed he could learn to juggle!.

    And juggle he did. He juggled continuously while strolling down the halls of the school between classes.  His confidence grew as the other students lauded him for his mad skilz, and got to know his kind nature (and wicked sense of irony). 

    He was a loving man, and his smile and grace will be sorely missed.

    • Claudia November 22, 2016 (7:22 pm)

      I saw the article on FB and wondered if it was our Sam from Sealth.  Even though he was a year ahead of me, I considered him a friend.  Ran into him once years ago at the Market – and he was juggling.  Think he said he also owned a comic book store.  Haven’t seen him since. Sounds like he made his life about making people smile. Condolences to his family.  So sad.

  • Diane Shirley November 21, 2016 (9:03 am)

    Feels like a light has gone out in the world. Will really miss you, Sam.

  • Cindy November 21, 2016 (12:44 pm)

    It’s been almost 40 years since I last saw Sam.  He juggled at my wedding and I still have the silly button he gave us.    He was a good and caring man then and it sounds like – not surprisingly – he never changed. 
    Has anything been said about services or memorial donations ??          
    RIP Sam –  I know your busy juggling stars in heaven now,

  • Graham November 30, 2016 (12:28 am)

    RIP Sam and thanks for all the fun memories you shared with us. You’re on another juggling journey but the good laughs

    remain with us here…….

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