Driver of Metrobus had passengers fooled

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By Phillip Lucas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 12, 2010

The 19-year-old man suspected of impersonating a Metro driver and crashing a Route B2 bus carrying five adults and a baby before fleeing the scene initially drove so well that passenger Thomasena Thompson still thought he was a real Metro driver Sunday evening.

"If he wasn't a driver for real," Thompson said, "he's been watching somebody for a real long time."

William Jackson, the suspect, was polite and knew the bus's exact route, Thompson said. He stopped at Washington Hospital Center and even left the bus idling for her as she ran to it from the McDonald's she had stopped at after transferring from the X2 Friday afternoon.

He told passengers that the fare box was broken, so there was no need for them to drop coins or tap SmarTrip cards to the sensor. The ride was business as usual as Jackson turned left and Thompson got closer to her stop at the Potomac Avenue Metro station.

Then he hit a tree near 17th Street Southeast and Massachusetts Avenue, about two blocks from the Stadium Armory Metro station, about 4:15 p.m.

Thompson, who sat in the mostly empty row of seats in the front, is unsure whether she jumped from her seat or if the force of the crash threw her from it. She said that the tree hit the bus's right side and that a limb fell on top of the bus.

She said Jackson dropped to the floor in search of an emergency switch for the front doors, which were jammed. Thompson said the man pried open the back doors, got off and then opened the front doors from the outside to let the six passengers off.

No one argued, she said, because passengers thought he might be inexperienced and panicked or had a concentration lapse behind the wheel.

Jackson boarded the bus again and drove slowly to allow the tree limb to fall. He then got off the bus and took off running, Thompson said. A postal carrier and another bystander chased him down in their cars, she said.

Metro said Saturday that it will review its procedures to determine how a non-Metro employee, who was wearing a Metro uniform, was able to board a bus and drive away without identifying himself or being challenged. Cathy Asato, spokeswoman for Metro, said drivers are required to show identification upon arrival.

Thompson said she wonders whether drivers should have a form of identification posted somewhere on the bus.

The passengers spoke with police and fire officials after the accident, but Thompson said she had not heard from anyone at Metro. She called the agency and was told that the information she provided to police officers would be passed on to them.

Asato said Metro was looking to contact the passengers, but it wasn't clear Sunday night whether their contact information had been given to Metro officials.

Jackson was arrested and charged with unauthorized use of a vehicle and fleeing an accident. He told officials that he was simply fascinated by buses.

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