Metro Transit Police have arrested a 19-year-old man for allegedly throwing a Sterno can at a Metrobus driver Wednesday, and in connection with the armed robbery and assault of two people at a Metro station bus stop Monday.
Aric Lewis Holmes of Southeast D.C. was arrested Wednesday night and is expected to be arraigned Thursday.
According to police, Holmes and two acquaintances attempted to board an X2 bus shortly before noon Wednesday at 14th and H streets NE, but were told that they would not be allowed to ride because one of them was carrying a gasoline-powered leaf blower. Police say Holmes picked up an empty can of Sterno cooking fuel from the sidewalk and threw it at the bus driver; the can bounced off the plexiglass shield designed to protect the operator, who was not injured.
Transit police detectives used surveillance footage from the bus to identify the person who threw the can. They searched for Holmes and arrested him, along with one of the other men who attempted to board the bus, 21-year-old John Webb McPhaul.
Both Holmes and McPhaul are charged with armed robbery and assault with intent to rob, following two incidents that occurred Monday at the Minnesota Avenue Metro station, police said. In the first incident, Holmes and McPhaul are accused of using a weapon– described by the victim as a gun– to rob a 17-year-old who was waiting for a bus around 8:30 p.m. Police say the pair stole the teen’s belt, backpack and “Yeezy” sneakers.
Metro said when Holmes was later stopped by transit police detectives, he was wearing sneakers that matched those taken from the victim.
Later that night, police say, Holmes and McPhaul approached a man who was waiting for a bus, took his cigarette and said, “You got money?” The man said ‘no,’ stood up and started to walk away, and Holmes and McPhaul started assaulting him, Metro said. A transit police officer interrupted the assault and the suspects fled. The victim sustained minor injuries but declined medical attention.
The assault on the Metrobus bus driver was the latest to occur on the X2 line, which runs from Minnesota Avenue Metro to the White House.
On Tuesday, a 20-year-old man was arrested on charges of assault with a dangerous weapon and threats to do bodily harm. after he allegedly reached around a bus shield, brandished a knife and threatened to kill the driver.
The incident prompted Metro’s largest union, the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, to issue a list of demands to Metro management aimed at increasing safety for drivers along the X2 line and throughout the system.
At a news conference held at Minnesota Ave. station Thursday afternoon, union leaders called for Metro to increase the police presence on the bus lines with the highest incidents of assaults against drivers, and to develop a public awareness campaign to educate people on paying their fares and respecting drivers.
They also want Metro to consider relocating the fare boxes on buses, placing them further toward the rear of the bus so that passengers have fewer interactions with bus operators.
Asked about the potential costs of such a change on the buses, union vice president Carroll Thomas responded, “Can you put a price on someone’s life?”
Anthony Garland, international representative for ATU Local 689, added that Metro could save money in the long-run by avoiding the costs that are incurred when an operator is placed on leave because of an attack from a passenger.
“We know that we can’t completely stop this problem,” Garland said. “But we can add more tools to the toolbox to cut down on some of what’s going on.”
In response to the union’s requests, Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said the transit agency is taking steps to address the recent rash in assaults. Several of the operators’ demands, he said, are already in motion.
Metro’s chief operating officer and the Metro Transit Police chief met last week with Jackie Jeter, president of ATU Local 689, to discuss an action plan to identify methods to improve safety for operators. Stessel said Metro is planning a public awareness campaign next month that will attempt to humanize bus drivers in the eyes of passengers.
And, Stessel added, officials have already increased the portion of the Metro Transit Police force dedicated to the X2 line. Stessel pointed out that at times, there are 16 transit police officers simultaneously riding and monitoring the X2 line — more than the number of buses that are running along that route during peak period hours.