AURORA, Colo. – Aurora police say they have identified a person of interest who is accused of assaulting an RTD bus driver on May 20, leaving the driver with serious injuries. However, the person of interest was not in custody as of Wednesday afternoon, police said.
Investigators released screengrabs of bus surveillance video from the 83-Limited RTD bus showing the suspect. According to police, the man demanded to be let off the bus near S. Dayton Rd. and E. Jewell Ave.
"The operator explained to him that he would get him to the next available stop," said Chris Moralez, Vice President of the Amalgamated Transit Union - Local 1001. "This is a 'limited-stop' route, so not every bus stop gets serviced by that bus."
Moralez said the irate passenger then went to the front of the bus and started having a conversation with the operator.
"The operator continued to explain to him that he would get him to the next safest stop that was designated for his route, but that didn't suffice,"
Moralez, who saw security video of the confrontation, said the passenger then attacked the driver.
"It was pretty upsetting," he said, "because we had a moving bus...which was obviously a risk for everyone on board."
Moralez said the driver did get medical assistance and was transported.
"As far as I know," he said, "he is still out of service."
45 Assaults in 2019
RTD spokeswoman Tina Jaquez called the assault, "troubling."
"Any act of violence against a bus driver or train operator is a felony," she said.
Jaquez said there have been 45 assaults on drivers and operators so far this year, and that most of them have been minor.
When asked if RTD is doing enough to keep passengers and drivers safe, Jaquez replied that safety is a top priority.
She said the transit agency has taken several steps to insure safety.
- High Defintion Video & Audio Recording Systems
- Transit Officers Throughout the System
- Off-Duty City Officers
- Asking Passengers to use their Eyes & Ears
- Send Information via Transit Watch App
"We think RTD can do more," Moralez said, "especially in problem areas."
Jaquez said they place additional officers and security guards in the problem areas, but Moralez said there may not be agreement on which areas are the priorities.
"We have asked several times for an audit on the total number of officers and guards and where they are," Moralez said. "We'd like to have a say (on where they're stationed) based on our records."
Bill Jones, the legal counsel for ATU - Local 1001, told Denver7 that nationwide, the lion's share of assaults on bus drivers are related to operators enforcing the fare policy.
"There is new training out now," he said, "that has some questionable language. You're supposed to inform them that you're not allowed to let someone ride without paying full fare, and then say something along the lines of, 'For your safety, I suggest you either exit the bus or take your seat.' which I think that sounds confrontational."
When asked about unscheduled stops and fare evasion, Jaquez said, "Our number one priority is keeping everyone safe and secure on our services, so the driver needs to decide when it's the safest to let a passenger get off. We don't want an operator to endanger themselves over fare, so certainly that's a judgment call. Don't fight someone for a fare if you're going to feel endangered. Always contact a dispatcher or supervisor."
Jones said the response time can be very long, and in the case of an assault, the damage is done long before a supervisor or transit police get there.
He added that driving buses, or operating trains is very stressful.
"There are all sorts of hazards," he said. "It's one of the highest stress level occupations in the country."
He said in addition to traffic, they're dealing with a growing number of obnoxious passengers.
"Folks that are dealing with psychological issues," Moralez said,
"Operators should not have to enforce fares and they should not be assaulted for saying the wrong thing to a passenger," Jones said. "It just raises the stress level...You worry about going home with a black eye, or maybe not going home at all."
Both RTD and the Union remind everyone that assaulting a driver/operator is a felony.
"A lot of prosecutors go for a simple assault charge," Jones told Denver7. "They ignore the fact that back in 1994 we made endangering public transportation a class 3 felony.
Jones said the genesis of that bill goes back to the "Jesse James days with train robberies."