Bus driver forced to flee vehicle in knife attack
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As a Winnipeg Transit driver jumped out the side window of his bus to escape from a seemingly intoxicated passenger who was trying to stab him Sunday, he warned passengers to flee from the vehicle.
It’s the latest alarming attack in the city, including the Canada Day stabbing of a newly arrived Ukrainian refugee at The Forks.
Officers were called to Portage Avenue and Camden Street at about 7 p.m. July 24, where they were told a woman had boarded an eastbound Portage Avenue bus a few minutes earlier and started causing a disturbance, the Winnipeg Police Service said Monday.
According to Romeo Ignacio, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505, the woman was the last person in a big crowd that got on the bus near Polo Park shopping centre.
About a block east, at Craig Street, the driver told another passenger they were at their stop. The female suspect, who was standing next to the driver, reportedly took offence, Ignacio said, and started trying to stab the driver around the plastic shield that partially surrounds the operator’s seat.
“He was very close to that knife– inches away.”
– Romeo Ignacio
“He was very close to that knife — inches away,” said Ignacio, who spoke with the bus driver Monday afternoon.
The driver stopped the bus near Camden Street, and began to squeeze his way through the window adjacent his seat. A passenger or passerby helped him out, as the driver yelled for others on the bus to flee.
“It saved his life,” Ignacio said of the escape via window.
The driver wasn’t physically injured; he’ll be back behind the wheel Thursday, the union leader said. However, “We have a lot of members who are suffering psychological injuries because of things like this.”
Officers found an armed suspect near the stopped bus and deployed a Taser electro-shock weapon, police said.
Destiny Dawn Harry, 41, of Winnipeg, is charged with assault with a weapon, two counts of possession of a weapon and fail to comply with a release order. A search revealed a second knife, police said. She was detained in custody.
The union received three reports of assaults on drivers last weekend.
Harry has a criminal record, including two dozen convictions for theft and breaching court orders. Court records say she has struggled with addictions, including to methamphetamine.
Winnipeg Transit spokeswoman Megan Benedictson said the safety and security of its drivers, employees and passengers is of the utmost importance.
She also pointed to past information on recent safety initiatives provided to the Free Press, including: driver training, safety shields and video and audio surveillance, as well as the hiring of more inspectors, who wear body armour and are trained to de-escalate confrontations.
The union received three reports of assaults on drivers last weekend, Ignacio said.
The Sunday incident is the second time in recent years he’d heard of a driver having to jump from their vehicle window to escape an assault. A driver did the same in a May 24, 2020, incident when passenger Raymond Hill, 57, was fatally stabbed in an unprovoked attack, the union leader said.
The number of violent incidents on buses — assault, assault with a weapon or stabbings — has grown steadily since 2019, police numbers past provided to the Free Press show.
“Even without a knife, you can actually punch the operator because there’s a big gap (in the shield). This really drives the point, and I hope Transit will really look into this.”
– Romeo Ignacio
In that year, officers responded to 191 calls; in 2020, it jumped to 219 incidents; in 2021, there were 252. By late June this year, police had responded to 167 assault reports on city buses.
Ignacio said the union has wanted shields that fully encase the driver compartments since the partial shields were introduced in a pilot project following the February 2017 slaying of driver Irvine Jubal Fraser.
That year, Winnipeg Transit launched the pilot to test two different kinds of shields on 700 buses, one of which was selected for the full fleet. By 2020, Transit had installed the partial shields in all buses.
“Even without a knife, you can actually punch the operator because there’s a big gap (in the shield). This really drives the point, and I hope Transit will really look into this,” Ignacio said.
In regard to safety shields, Benedictson said: “A discussion at the Transit advisory committee prompted by new designs coming onto market is ongoing. However, it is premature to share potential outcomes that may result from this discussion.”
The committee created in 2017 is made up of Transit leadership, ATU Local 1505 representatives, a citizen safety committee, Winnipeg Association of Public Service Officers, the city’s Indigenous relations division, police and drivers.
— with files from Dean Pritchard
Erik Pindera reports for the city desk, with a particular focus on crime and justice.