Greater Sudbury Police have a “person of interest” they are investigating in connection with an attack on a city bus driver March 1 as she completed her rounds near Hanmer.
But Staff Sgt. Craig Maki said March 13 police are still collecting evidence and are still seeking help from the public in connection with the case.
"I can’t go into details of the investigation,” Maki said, when asked how police tracked down the person of interest.
The driver, who has not been identified, was punched in the head twice, sustaining minor injuries. She has been off the job since the attack, and city officials say she is getting the support she needs to recover from the incident.
“We want to be sure the transit operator has a chance to recover and fully return to work,” said Tony Cecutti, the city’s general manager of infrastructure. “I think it’s fair to say she’s going to need some time. She has access to professional support … She’ll come back when she’s ready to come back.”
Cecutti said he’s disappointed that such a violent incident happened in Sudbury, a city which most people consider safe.
“I can’t tell you how frustrating it is for me personally, and for our whole department and division … to have to deal with this kind of garbage. It’s just not right,” he said.
“We never used to have to lock our doors. And now, it’s like we live in a big city with millions of people, like Toronto or Chicago, instead of Sudbury.”
Kevin Fowke, the city’s top human resources manager, said violent incidents like the one March 1 are reviewed every Wednesday by the joint health and safety committee, which includes representatives from management and the union.
“I’m aware of a number of types of incidents like this – not quite as severe – in transit,” Fowke said.
“In every incident that occurs, there are a number of processes in place – there are supervisors to investigate the incident, to find out exactly what happened and make sure others are aware, at least of what’s occurred so they can make themselves ready in the workplace, as well.”
While the assault is an extreme example, he said staff across the city interacts with the public on a regular basis and are trained on how to deal with difficult situations.
“Whether it’s on a bus or in an arena or anywhere in the city, staff are interfacing with the community,” Fowke said
“We’ve provided training on how to de-escalate situations. Oftentimes what will happen is something starts to brew – an argument or a complaint or a loud argument that might escalate into an incident. We’ve been training employees about how to ... defuse them and how to move them off.”
When the transit operator was attacked, he said staff from the human resources department was dispatched at 2 a.m. to meet with her and ensure she was getting the support she needed.
“This transit operator is a member of our community, with a family, who is just a person coming to work to have a good work day,” Fowke said.
“In that specific incident, we always have debriefing staff on site … to do debriefing with her, to get her to the crisis intervention at the hospital.”
The city is experimenting with cameras on a few city buses, technology that was already scheduled, but that may offer a measure of safety for drivers. Cecutti said Sudbury Transit manager Roger Sauvé and his staff have been working on the new cameras for a while.
“The intent was to experiment with the technology, to see how it integrates with the AVL system and our IT systems,” Cecutti said. “If it provides a measure of security in the interim, that’s a bonus. And that’s certainly one of the benefits and something we hope to implement in the near future on a full-time basis.”
As for a union suggestion that security guards accompany drivers on certain bus routes, Cecutti said that sort of measure has been done before under special circumstances, such as the free and extended services transit offers on New Year’s Eve.
It’s something the city could consider if it makes sense, he said.
“We have to figure out what’s practical to implement.”
Police say the man who attacked the transit operators was not known to the driver. He is Caucasian, in his 30s, with a medium build. He was wearing a reddish baseball cap, a grey hoodie, a dark winter coat, light-coloured blue jeans and brown boots. Anyone with information is asked to contact police or Crime Stoppers.
The investigation is ongoing.