King County Metro was negligent when a bus driver took no action while two teenage riders were attacked and beaten aboard a bus by a group of youths, a jury ruled Thursday. The Superior Court jury voted to award in excess of $250,000 to plaintiffs Carmen Rollins, represented by Ken Friedman, and Will Hendershott, represented by Andy Schwarz.
After the verdict was read, Rollins, now 20, sobbed in the arms of her father. “I really do hope this helps promote bus safety,” she said.
Attorneys for King County had argued that the driver behind the wheel of the Rainier Valley-bound No. 7 did not see the assaults on the articulated bus on May 22, 2005. However, while the driver testified that he did not see the beating, his trial testimony was inconsistent with the report he filled out the night of the incident and his testimonial account was disputed by witnesses from the bus.
Ken Friedman argued that the driver was to blame. “The driver could have called for backup or advice when he saw the rowdy group trying to board. He could have called for police help once the beatings began. He has an emergency button that he can press and police would have come at once. Instead, he did nothing.”
Rollins and Hendershott were both 17 and dating at the time. They boarded the bus just after midnight with another friend. Rollins had just gotten off work at a movie theater. She noticed a raucous group waiting as the bus approached the Rainier Avenue-Alaska Street stop. The driver stopped and the group, described by the plaintiffs as about 30 male and female youths shouting profanities and exchanging punches, boarded the bus.
According to testimony, one of the men moved next to Rollins and caressed her leg, then others, including one who said he had a gun. They then began calling the couple names. Just before the bus made its next stop at South Graham Street, Rollins testified, the group “jumped” her and her boyfriend, threatening to rape her, and punched both of them in the face. The assault continued as the bus traveled through downtown Seattle. When the bus finally stopped, the driver opened all the doors and the group dragged the couple out through the rear door. The beatings continued just outside the bus until the couple’s friend called 911 from a cell phone, and the bus drove away. When police arrived (only two minutes after the call) the bus had already left the stop. The assailants also were gone. No one was ever arrested.
The jury trial and resulting verdict were well covered by the SEATTLE TIMES. The story was reported by Natalie Singer and was featured on the front page during trial and after the verdict. It was also the subject of a lead editorial the week following the verdict. See the following links to the Seattle Times stories:
Story # 1: Beating on a bus: Driver didn’t see or didn’t act?
Story #2: Metro must pay victims of beating on bus
Editorial: Bad night on bus results in justice