Metrobus drivers uneasy after fatal shooting in Southeast D.C.

On Monday afternoon, Metrobus operator Damon Sampson drove along the B2 line through the streets of Anacostia. An older passenger asked Sampson why he wasn’t dealing with a few rowdy kids who were eating and drinking — a no-no on Metro’s buses and trains.

“You think I’m going to argue with them over some sodas and a Snickers bar?” he told her.

“Did you see what happened around here Sunday?” Sampson asked, referring to the fatal shooting of a young woman as she boarded a Metrobus along that same route in the evening.

“I don’t want any confrontations,” said Sampson, who often drives some of the most troubled routes on Metro’s system. “I want to go home each night to my family.”

In the shooting Sunday, authorities say they think that Javon S. Foster of Southeast Washington, shot and killed his daughter’s mother, Selina Brown, 20, as she boarded a B2 bus at 18th Street and Minnesota Avenue SE.

The shooting apparently followed a confrontation on the street between Foster and Brown, but the fact that the dispute did not begin on the bus was little comfort to drivers and passengers, who expressed renewed concern about safety on the Metrobus system.

The child, who was in her mother’s arms as she boarded the bus, was also shot but survived. Foster, who had dated Brown, later died in Long Island of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound.

The slaying comes amid reports from Metrobus operators of rocks, bricks and debris being thrown at their vehicles on routes in Southeast. Metro had considered cutting night service to the W6 and W8 bus routes but abandoned the plan.

“You hear these things, and it makes you nervous riding,” Virginia Powell said as she got off the B2 bus at the Anacostia Metro stop Tuesday morning to go to her job as a home health aide. “It could have been me. It could have been anybody who got hit. It doesn’t make you feel too safe.”

Bus operators said they are often assaulted, spit on or cursed at often by riders who refuse to pay their fares. Last month, a bus operator who had just finished a shift was struck by a bullet near the Anacostia station, though police said they do not think the driver was the intended target. And in June, there were two stabbing incidents on buses — one in Southeast and the other on a bus traveling through the George Washington University campus.

During breaks Tuesday, some bus operators chatted about what they would have done if they had been involved in Sunday’s shooting. The operator of the bus, who has been with Metro for six years, told union officials that Brown was shot as she boarded the bus and that she fell into the vehicle. The driver lifted his arm to shield himself from shots and then closed the doors and drove a block to safety, according to union officials who have visited with him.

The operator told union officials that he thought his leg was grazed by a bullet or that it ricocheted off his leg and that the window behind him was shot out. Metro spokeswoman Caroline Lukas said Tuesday that according to reports from Metro Transit Police, the operator “suffered a contusion on his leg.” But she could not confirm that he was hit by a bullet.

There have been three homicides on Metro’s bus system this year, compared with two in 2011, according to the transit agency.

P.L. Dates Jr., a 13-year veteran of operating Metrobuses, said he has been hit with a stone and with juice bottles while driving.

“It makes you somewhat uneasy just because there’s always a chance that something like this can happen to you,” said Dates, who drives several routes in Southeast. 

Last week, Dates joined other drivers at a public hearing in Southeast at which he told D.C. Council members Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) and Marion Barry (D- Ward 8) that bus operators think their reports of incidents are not taken seriously and that they think there’s only a 50-50 chance police will show up promptly and will track down the assailant.

“You are really kind of out there on your own,” Dates said. “That is why it is such a difficult job.”

Bus operators and passengers said they want more police officers — in uniform and in plainclothes — riding the system. Metro and city police officials have said they will increase the police presence on bus routes throughout the District.

Metro has installed shields that are designed to protect operators on buses — many of them in service in Southeast. But there are mixed feelings among bus operators as to whether they use the shields. Some union officials want more shields. Some operators want protection, and others say they think the shields constrain them from defending themselves.

“The shield may not stop an attack, but at least it is more of a deterrent,” said Marcell Robinson, who drives a bus in Southeast and has been with Metro for more than two years. “Still, if anybody wants to do something to you, there’s nothing you can do to stop them.”

I'm a Washington Post reporter, working an early morning shift that deals with crime, lottery winners, traffic, you name it.
Luz Lazo writes about transportation and development. She has recently written about the challenges of bus commuting, Metro’s dark stations, and the impact of sequestration on air travel.
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