Kelly Egan: Fired bus driver speaks out
Devastated by the loss of his career, he says
By KELLY EGAN, The Ottawa Citizen November 18, 2011 9:36 AM
OTTAWA — The OC Transpo driver who was fired for a tirade against a passenger has provided us his side of the story.
He is devastated at the turn of events — “the insanity” he calls it — the loss of his career, income, peace of mind, only three years short of retirement. “I’m just kind of numb, you know?” He could barely get the story out without tears.
“(The passenger) just wouldn’t leave me alone,” he said this week, in describing a set of circumstances — that night, and in his life — that would push just about anyone to the breaking point.
But first, a catalogue of the pressure the man was facing.
He often works from 7:30 p.m. until 5:30 a.m., a shift he started roughly 20 years ago when his wife gave birth to triplets.
In April this year, though they were divorced, she died at the age of 51, a shattering event for the children and family. In August 2010, his mother died at the age of 81, leaving his father alone.
This February, his father, now age 83, had open-heart surgery. So the bus driver moved into his father’s house to be a caregiver during the day, leaving his grown children in the apartment that he pays for, meals included, while he worries about their well-being; their mother now dead.
“The reason for the shift is for the hours, and I want to be there at the house when my Dad needs me. My whole schedule, since my kids were born, has been geared to being there for them.”
So do these actions speak of a good man, not a raving nut who does not understand public service.
(He spoke on condition of anonymity, fearful the release of his name will “make things horrible.”)
The terms for that explosive episode, at 2 a.m. on Nov. 3, were really set two days before.
It was Halloween. He was driving the No. 12 in the east end. It was about 8 p.m. A passenger, about 13 years old, boarded the bus and asked him to alert him to the Montreal and Shefford roads stop, only about six stops ahead.
The driver said okay, but told him to watch the electronic call-out system, which alerts passengers to every stop. No said the kid, yammering on his cellphone, you tell me when we get there.
“He keeps asking me, every stop, ‘is this it? Is this it?’”
When they finally arrive, the driver tells him. The youth was met by a friend on the sidewalk. Before leaping off, he spat in the driver’s face, took off, nearly running over a mom with a stroller.
The driver stopped the bus, called his supervisor. There was a discussion about whether he should go to the hospital. He declined, but an unusual thing happened. As though all of the stresses in his life surged at this moment, he started to crack. He couldn’t believe how upset he was.
“Christ man, I even said (to the supervisor) I didn’t even cry when my mom died.” But the spit in the face seem to break a dam.
He took the rest of the night off. The next day, exhausted because he hadn’t slept, he said he called his supervisor and it was agreed he would take Tuesday night off as a sick day, one of only four he had taken all year.
Wednesday, he was back behind the wheel, on the No. 96.
It was a good shift, he reports. Then a passenger later identified as Matthew Taronno, 20, an Algonquin College student, boarded the bus at Lincoln Fields.
The two were acquainted with each other.
About three weeks before, said the driver, the young man got on the bus and started acting up, talking loudly, bothering other passengers. “I told him, listen man, if you don’t sit down and be quiet, you’re not going to be welcome on the bus anymore.
“He sat down, was quiet, got to where he was going. Beautiful.”
But not this night.
The trip from Lincoln Fields to Eagleson park-and-ride is only 12 minutes, he said. The whole time, he said Taronno was being disruptive. Either sitting or walking up and down the aisle, he was speaking loudly into a cellphone, as though it were a microphone.
“At Pinecrest, he got behind a passenger and is yelling into his phone and leaning toward them, trying to be aggressive.”
At Bayshore, he said Taronno comes to the front of the bus again, shouting out nonsense, ringing the bell when no one was getting off.
“I said ‘C’mon man, what are you doing?’”
He thought about calling security but knew there was only another stop or two to go before the young man got off.
“Every time I roll the bus, he gets up again. Ah man,” he said, releasing a big sigh, “It was just too much.”
So he gave the kid a blast, much of it caught on YouTube. It was never his intention to physically harm the passenger, he said, despite his verbal threat.
“I just lost it. I figured if I kept talking, he wouldn’t say anything else.”
This much was true.
“It was a 12-minute trip that started with ‘Please have a seat’ and ended with the video.”
Once the story hit the papers and Mayor Jim Watson got involved, the driver sensed things had escalated to another level.
The driver, through his union, is grieving the dismissal. For now, he needs to recover well enough to start looking for another job.
Driving a bus, he said, was a “fabulous” job for 25 years but he was looking forward to retiring in 2015. Now the future is shaky.
And so it is left to wonder about OC Transpo, their “investigation,” and their deftness at labour relations. After an admitted, embarrassing mistake, they took a loyal employee, obviously under stress, and threw him under the bus, leaving an entire family in disarray.
It is one thing to be incompetent. But cold-hearted too?
To contact Kelly Egan, please call 613-726-5896, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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