Officials putting brakes on SEPTA assaults

PHILADELPHIA - September 16, 2011

Now, officials from the mayor, the D.A., the police commissioner, and a state senator have made it their clarion call to get this bill through Harrisburg.

Imagine a SEPTA bus loaded with dozens of passengers travelling down the highway when suddenly someone assaults the driver. The bus swerves out of control, potentially killing or injuring lots of people.

"That is a disaster in the making for all those folks on the bus, every person on the street, any motorist that is near there," Mayor Michael Nutter said.

That scenario is what officials fear the most amidst an alarming and increasing number of assaults on SEPTA transit operators from bus drivers to trolley and train personnel.

RELATED: Action News Special Report - "SEPTA: Attacks on drivers on the rise"

There have been more than 50 incidents so far this year including a dramatic incident captured on video onboard the route 47 bus. In the video, two men approached the bus with guns drawn after a woman called her boyfriend. The woman made the call after a passenger complained about her disciplining her son. Passengers hit the ground as one of the men shot the bus 13 times as it drove off.

Bus driver Wanda Avery says just last Thursday she was assaulted by a passenger after she stopped her route 22 bus in Hatboro to let him off.

"The next thing I know, he lunged at me three times and I went down and that's basically all I remember," Avery said.

Bus driver Denise Davis was assaulted in late August by a man who didn't have the $2 fare and she refused to let him ride for free.

"He went on, he's 'gonna kick my behind' and of course he was cursing, walking through the bus, he's going off, tried to snatch the fare transfer holder off," Davis said.

"Then he comes up and pushes me and we get into a fight."

For almost 8 years, State Senator Tina Tartaglione has been trying to pass Senate Bill 236 which would make it an automatic felony to assault a transit worker.

"What's it going to take, one of these people have to die in order to get this passed? it shouldn't be that way," Tartaglione said.

The mayor and the District Attorney Seth Williams have now joined in the effort to finally get the bill pushed through.

"There certainly can be no controversy about this, it seems pretty straight forward and why would you not want to extend this kind of protection to other public employees?" Nutter said.

In the meantime, Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey says they will be assigning officers to pay closer attention to the SEPTA transit system, periodically riding on buses and trains to check with drivers and operators to make sure things are safe and secure.

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