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A 17-year-old boy has been arrested in connection with the brutal multiple stabbing of an L.A. Metro bus driver in Woodland Hills, police said Thursday.
The attack — which left the 61-year-old driver in critical condition with "beyond life-threatening" injuries, in the words of LAPD Chief Michel Moore — is the latest high-profile incidence of violence to rock a transit system already grappling with crime and growing wariness among riders who feel unsafe.
Even as they sought to reassure residents, board members overseeing the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority acknowledged both the issues and problem of public perception plaguing the agency.
"When these incidents happen, it's easy to question if the Metro system is safe," said board Chairman Ara Najarian, who also sits on the Glendale City Council. "It may appear counter-intuitive, especially at times like these, but for the vast majority of daily riders on our system, the system is safe."
The stabbing, which occurred Wednesday evening in Woodland Hills, represents just the latest act of violence aboard L.A. public transit. Last week, a 53-year-old woman was attacked aboard an A Line train in Long Beach.
Between February and March, 23 Metro bus drivers were assaulted on the job — with spitting and use of hands, including punching, being the most commonly reported, according to figures presented by Metro Chief Safety Officer Gina Osborn.
“Most of these events really had no rhyme or reason to them,” said Robert Gummer, a Metro deputy executive officer. “Unfortunately, there were issues that either the patron had prior to getting on the bus or disorderly conduct that the operator was trying to enforce.”
Wednesday’s assault is part of a trend of unruliness that predates the pandemic. A total of 158 operators were assaulted last year. There were 80 such altercations in 2018, a figure that rose to 95 in 2019; dipped to 73 in 2020; then bounced up to 115 in 2021.
The 23 altercations reported in March were the highest monthly total in the last five years.
“I understand that fear and uncertainty may be at the forefront of our employees' minds,” said Metro Chief Executive Stephanie Wiggins. “Please know that we are unwavering in our dedication to creating a safe and supportive workplace.”
L.A. Metro is attempting to curtail such incidents by installing new prototype barriers — see-through plastic walls that extend floor to ceiling and fully enclose the driver — on some buses. Gummer said the agency is currently testing out two versions on 10 buses each, and has received feedback from 400 drivers.
“We’re [trying] to mitigate the vulnerabilities that exist right now where a patron or someone doing the assault still has access to the operator,” Gummer said.
Starting June 5, Metro transit security members will also begin riding buses on two lines — 207, which travels from Hawthorne to Los Feliz along Western Avenue; and 2, which ventures from Westwood to Exposition Park with stops in Beverly Hills, Echo Park and Westlake.
Metro's board also on Thursday amended the agency's 2024 budget to add 40 additional transit security officers, a move that had been in consideration prior to Wednesday's attack.
Al Cromer, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3634, which contracts with L.A. Metro, said he supports the additional transit security officers.
"We need to fix this system and protect people that are riding, and our employees," Cromer said at Thursday's meeting. "We need to take care of this system. We cannot let it run amok."
Metro's new 2024 budget, now just over $9 billion, includes an increase in public safety funding of $10.3 million, along with an additional $13 million for transit security and $10 million for homeless outreach and mental health crisis services.
Overall, law enforcement spending was increased 3.7%, to $175.8 million.
The driver injured in Wednesday's attack was stabbed in his chest, neck and back and remains in critical condition at Northridge Hospital Medical Center, according to the Los Angeles Police Department.
During a news conference Thursday, Moore declined to give any additional details about the bus driver, citing his family’s wishes for privacy. He also did not name the 17-year-old in custody, as he is a minor.
"The driver is still not out of the woods yet and we need to keep him in our prayers," Mayor Karen Bass said during the Metro board meeting, adding that it was important to "redouble our efforts" to protect bus operators.
The stabbing happened around 5:15 p.m. Wednesday near the intersection of Erwin Street and Topanga Canyon Boulevard. After the assailant boarded the bus, he got into an argument with the driver over fare evasion, according to authorities. Both the assailant and the driver got off the bus during the argument, which ended with the driver being stabbed multiple times, authorities said.
The suspect was arrested on suspicion of attempted murder around 2:45 p.m. Thursday at his home in the San Fernando Valley, according to Moore.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.