4th MetroAccess contract driver accused of sex assault

By Katherine Shaver
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 10, 2010

A Gaithersburg man charged Sunday with sexually assaulting a woman in a MetroAccess vehicle is the fourth contract driver this year accused of attacking a passenger using Metro's service for the disabled.

Metro Transit Police said Samuel E. Kingston, 59, grabbed a woman's breast Aug. 27 while helping her out of the vehicle at a facility where she volunteers in Silver Spring. The woman, who is in her mid-30s, has cerebral palsy and uses a scooter, police said.

Metro Board of Directors Chairman Peter Benjamin said he wants to know whether MV Transportation, the California company that provides the MetroAccess service, is "being careful about its operators."

"Obviously this is something we cannot tolerate," Benjamin said. "We have to find out what's going on with this."

Nikki Frenney, a spokeswoman for MV Transportation, said all MetroAccess drivers must undergo a background check before they can drive for MV or any MetroAccess subcontractors.

"With more than 1,100 drivers in the MetroAccess service, we strongly believe the incidents of alleged abuse are isolated," Frenney wrote in an e-mail. "It is our hope that the perpetrators are punished to the full extent of the law if found guilty."

Kingston, of the 17000 block of Downing Street, worked for Gaithersburg-based Challenger Transportation, a subcontractor for MV Transportation, police said. Mike Healy, a Challenger vice president, declined to say whether Kingston is still employed and referred all questions to Metro.

Jeff Delinski, deputy chief for Metro Transit Police, said MV Transportation provided a criminal background check that showed that Kingston had no previous arrests or convictions. Kingston was immediately suspended from the MetroAccess service and will remain suspended while the case is pending, police said.

The four alleged attacks on MetroAccess passengers are unrelated, Delinski said. Even so, he said, police are planning a one-hour training program for current and prospective MetroAccess drivers to explain "what's acceptable, what's appropriate and what's lawful" when interacting with passengers.

"In my opinion, these were crimes of opportunity," Delinski said. "The suspects saw an opportunity and took advantage of it."

Frenney said in April that drivers would be "retrained on sensitivity and appropriate behavior." She said Thursday that the "issue was part of the quarterly safety meetings that the drivers are required to attend," but was checking on the extent of the training provided.

The arrests mark another setback for MetroAccess, Metro's federally mandated service for the people with disabilities who can't use standard buses and trains. The long-troubled service is Metro's most expensive and has been plagued for years by reports of passengers left stranded and drivers unfamiliar with the Washington region getting lost.

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