|“The danger is part of the job,” said T bus driver Cleophus Stockdale. (Kayana Szymczak for The Globe)|
To T drivers, attacks are nothing new
Cleophus Stockdale has been spit on multiple times, challenged to fight frequently, punched, and once even had a pistol held to his head.
The MBTA bus driver, 28 years on the job, said he wasn’t surprised by the attack Monday on a fellow driver operating a bus in Roxbury.
“The danger is part of the job,’’ he said. “What happened happens all the time. It’s just something we have to live with.’’
So far this year, 20 MBTA employees were assaulted while working, 10 of them while on a bus, officials said.
Last year, 66 MBTA employees were assaulted while on the job; 31 of them were either driving or riding a bus at the time. The previous year, when the MBTA recorded its lowest crime rate in 30 years, they still had 58 employees assaulted; 29 of them were on a bus at the time.
“We view any assault on any employee or any passenger as one too many,’’ said MBTA Police Deputy Chief Joseph O’Connor.
The dangers of the job were evident in the Monday afternoon attack of a 39-year-old bus driver, whom transit officials have identified only as Operator 2157. Several passengers began beating the 13-year veteran while he was driving on Dudley Street in Roxbury. As a result, he lost control of the bus and slammed into a sign and a building, causing one of his attackers to fall out of the bus and be pinned beneath a wheel, officials said. The alleged attackers fled the scene on foot, and as of yesterday, there were no arrests.
“Certainly, it’s dangerous any time an employee is assaulted in performance of their duties, but it’s highly unusual for it to happen while a bus is in motion, and for it to result in an accident,’’ O’Connor said. “We’re very fortunate in this incident that no one was seriously injured.’’
Bus drivers said they have grown accustomed to the fear.
Stockdale recalled one incident in the summer of 1984, when a man walked onto his bus and refused to pay. When reminded he owed the fare, the man dropped a spare rib from the Chinese food he was eating into Stockdale’s fare box. The man then took out a gun and pointed it at Stockdale’s head and said, “I just got out of jail, and I don’t mind going back.’’
“Some people are just unwilling to pay,’’ said Stockdale, 58. “When I was younger, I would get into fights all the time. I learned that it’s really dangerous when you open your mouth and that you have to use common sense to defuse situations.’’
Luckson Jules, who has been an MBTA bus driver for six years, called Monday’s attack “very scary.’’
He said he is frequently verbally abused, citing an incident that occurred yesterday after he asked two young women to stay behind the yellow line at the front of the bus. “They began calling me the N-word,’’ he said about the racial epithet directed at him.
“Life is tough right now for a lot of people, and they’re on the edge,’’ Jules said. “We feel it, and for that reason, we really need more security. We’re very vulnerable here. We just don’t know what people are going to do.’’
Officials at the Boston Carmen’s Union, which represents bus drivers, said Monday’s attack occurred as the number of MBTA sworn police officers has declined by 8 percent the past three years to 258 officers.
They said they intend to file legislation to strengthen state laws to protect bus drivers and other MBTA employees.
“Any assault . . . against an MBTA employee while in the performance of their duties not only threatens the safety of the worker, but that of the riding public,’’ said John Lee, president of the Carmen’s Union.
O’Connor said the number of assaults against bus drivers has remained consistent over the years, but he noted that despite the recent attacks, there has been a 15 percent decline in violent crime in the first three months of this year compared with the same period last year.
At the JFK-UMass T station yesterday, riders said they were nervous after Monday’s attack.
Erami Colon, 24, of Jamaica Plain, said the violence made him want to buy a car.
“There’s no excuse for what happened,’’ he said. “It makes you not want to take the T.’’
After Monday’s attack, five people, including the bus driver, were taken to Boston hospitals with minor injuries. Officials said they were investigating the episode, which began after the driver asked a man to put out a cigarette.
Smoking is not allowed on MBTA property.
The man apparently became angry over the request, and he and three or four other men with him allegedly attacked the driver.
At 3:12 p.m., the driver of the Route 15 bus in Roxbury radioed the dispatcher, asking for police to be sent to his position. “I have a situation that needs to be dealt with right away,’’ he says on the 911 tapes released by the MBTA.
The T dispatcher asks for details and the driver provides them. “I have unruly passengers, a couple of kids smoking.’’
The operator, who was off the air for a few minutes, called dispatch again, with fear in his voice.
“I was just assaulted,’’ the driver radioed. “Got knocked out. Got my head smashed into the window. I’m still at the same location. There is a kid with his foot underneath the bus. About 10 of these kids jumped me.’’
The bus had slammed into a building on Dudley Street.
Officials also released a recording of a 911 call made by a woman who had gotten off the bus after the young men boarded.
“He has been assaulted by a bunch of teenagers on the bus,’’ she says.
“Are they actually hitting him and stuff?’’ the dispatcher asks the unidentified woman.
“They were hitting him,’’ she says. “Oh, my God, he was almost getting into an accident.’’
John Ellement of the Globe staff contributed to this report. David Abel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.