Attacked bus drivers demand action from city - KCTV5

Attacked bus drivers demand action from city

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The union president claims KCATA is dropping the ball when the assault cases go to court and surveillance video isn't making it to prosecutors. (KCATA) The union president claims KCATA is dropping the ball when the assault cases go to court and surveillance video isn't making it to prosecutors. (KCATA)
KCATA says 19 drivers were attacked on the job last year. It’s a number some drivers dispute. (KCTV5) KCATA says 19 drivers were attacked on the job last year. It’s a number some drivers dispute. (KCTV5)
“We made efforts to get the (surveillance) video over there,” said Chief of Safety Lawrence Baker. “The video was sent over there. Somehow it was  misplaced and it may not have gotten before the courts.” (KCATA) “We made efforts to get the (surveillance) video over there,” said Chief of Safety Lawrence Baker. “The video was sent over there. Somehow it was misplaced and it may not have gotten before the courts.” (KCATA)
KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) -

The surveillance video is tough to watch. A man slugs a Kansas City bus driver while he’s driving. At one point, he loses control of the bus but is able to bring it to a stop. The driver falls down, dazed, as he tries to go after the man who assaulted him.

Lonnie Woodward is that bus driver.

“While I’m pulling the bus over, blood is running down my shirt and the bottom of the bus is full of blood,” said Woodward.

Woodward has been driving buses for 12 years. He says this is the third time a passenger attacked him.

“Unless they stop these assaults, I promise you someone’s gonna get killed,” he said. 

The union reached out to KCTV5 with concerns the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority wasn’t doing enough to protect their drivers.

“I wanted to make sure that this story was told,” says Jonothan Walker, president of the union that represents city bus drivers.

The union president also claims KCATA is dropping the ball when the assault cases go to court.

In Woodward’s attack, the passenger was arrested and the case went to court. Prosecutors and the judge never saw the crucial surveillance video.

“Where’s the video? Did the judge see the video and she said, 'What video?'” Woodward recalls. “It’s absolutely everything. It’s vital for a judge to see the video.”

The man who punched Woodward got a plea deal. He served 30 days plus probation.

Woodward blames KCATA for not making sure the surveillance video made it to the hands of prosecutors.

“Not having that support system with the company makes you feel violated even more,” said Woodward.

The drivers’ union says it’s a scene that keeps playing out for those behind the wheel of city buses.

“Lonnie is unfortunately not an isolated case,” said Walker.

Walker says KCATA used to be very supportive of drivers, especially when a violent incident happened on the job. He says things have changed.

“All they care about is damage control,” said Walker. “So I'm not here to down them. I'm here to be real. That's reality."

When drivers and the union complained about lost evidence and a lack of support in their cases, Walker says KCATA will only get involved if the bus is damaged. If a driver is attacked, it’s a personal matter.

"We work for you and you are telling me that the only way you really want to get involved is if something is wrong with your bus. We work for you!” said Woodward.

KCATA says 19 drivers were attacked on the job last year. It’s a number some drivers dispute. There were 325 separate incidents where a driver had to pull over and call for help.

A number of employees reached out to KCTV5. Many didn’t want to do on camera interviews, fearing they would lose their jobs.

One employee who wanted to share her story, says when drivers are attacked they’re often blamed, even fired.

In Channel Harvey’s case, surveillance video shows a passenger yelling at her and then spits on her. Harvey restrains the unruly passenger for police who come and take the female passenger into custody.

Harvey was terminated, accused of provoking the passenger.

“I didn’t provoke anyone,” Harvey said.

Like Woodward’s case, Harvey’s surveillance video never made it to court.

KCTV5 took the drivers’ concerns to the KCATA to get answers.

"Safety and security are our number one core values,” says Sam Desue, senior vice president of the KCATA.

He and the agency’s chief of safety agreed to sit down with KCTV5. We immediately asked them about surveillance video not making it to court.

“We made efforts to get the video over there,” said Chief of Safety Lawrence Baker. “The video was sent over there. Somehow it was  misplaced and it may not have gotten before the courts.”

In February 2015, the KCATA announced it would be installing safety shields that would protect the driver from unruly passengers.

Over the past 12 months 25 have been installed. There are 255 buses. More than 90 percent of drivers are exposed. KCATA wants every bus to have one, but says that takes time and money.

The agency said it’s working to make other changes. Last month it was announced there would be two full time Kansas City police officers on staff to answer calls when a driver needs to control a passenger. KCATA said it wants to cut down on the amount of time a driver has to wait for help.

The agency also points out that just three months ago they started banning problem passengers. Right now six people are banned from city buses.

KCATA is also creating a safety manager position.

Woodward is hopeful the changes actually happen, but he still wants to see KCATA taking driver complaints seriously.

“You need to take this as serious as the drivers are when we are being assaulted,” said Woodward. “We are just trying to do our job.”

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