With 350 million annual bus riders, Metro says violent crimes on Metro buses are minimal. Still, violent incidents – including the assault of an 89-year-old man, who later died, and the alleged 10-minute long rape of a mentally disabled woman – have riders on high alert, with many of them carrying legal weapons to protect themselves just in case. Lolita Lopez reports from North Hollywood for the NBC4 News at 6 p.m. on Nov. 12, 2012.
A spate of violent attacks on L.A. area buses has worried riders and put transit officials on the defensive, even as a new enforcement team steps up its patrols.
The new team has issued 1,000 citations since it started work on Aug. 23, and made more than a dozen felony arrests, said Marc Littman, spokesman for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, or Metro.
But that hasn’t stopped the incidents, including the rape last week of a mentally disabled 18-year-old woman who was riding a bus through the Baldwin Hills area.
“It’s scary,” said Lissette Sanchez, 19, a Cal State Northridge student who was waiting for a bus at Chandler and Lankershim Boulevards in North Hollywood.
At least four women have been raped on Metro buses or at a Metro station so far this year, the transportation agency said, and a bus driver was shot to death by a rider in May.
Another case, involving the death of an 89-year-old man who was assaulted on a Metro bus in Culver City, is being treated as a homicide, an investigator for the Los Angeles County Coroner’s office told NBC4 on Monday.
Lt. Fred Corral said the man, who was punched in the face about three weeks ago, died Saturday at Cedars Sinai Medical Center. His doctors believe he was killed by a subdural hemorrhage, or bleeding that results from a ruptured blood vessel in the layers of tissue that protect the brain.
It is highly unlikely, Corral said, that the man would have had such a hemorrhage without sustaining a blow to the head.
“Those types of injuries are very rarely going to be accidental,” Corral said.
The coroner’s department had not yet determined whether the bleed was specifically related to the assault, Corral said, but it appears to be consistent with the injuries the man sustained at that time.
Littman, of Metro, said that the number of violent incidents on buses is tiny when taken in context of the county’s vast bus system.
Over the course of a year, Metro provides about 500 million rides to people on its buses and trains, Littman said.
A system of cameras on the buses allows security personnel in a central office to see details as small as the time of day on someone’s wristwatch, he said. And the new security patrol, consisting of a sergeant and eight deputies from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, has targeted high crime areas including parts of North Hollywood, the Crenshaw District, Vermont Ave. and Wilshire Blvd.
“The serious crimes like murders and rapes and assaults and so forth are extremely rare on the system,” he said.
A greater problem on the buses than physical assault, Littman said, was petty theft. He cautioned passengers to keep their cellphones and their money out of view.
Passengers worried about safety, or vulnerable populations like the elderly and disabled, should find a seat near the driver, Littman said.
But passengers at the bus stop in North Hollywood said they thought the transportation agency could do more to protect them.
“The other day I was on the bus and there was a drunk person and he threw a bottle at somebody,” said Sanchez, 19.
Her companion, fellow student Jacqueline Garcia, said she’s begun carrying pepper spray to ward off potential attackers on the bus.
Garrett Buck, 55, who was also waiting at the Chandler and Lankershim stop, said he has started carrying a small foldout knife.
“I am not trying to hurt anyone,” Buck said. “Just trying to protect myself.”