A GO bus driver was struck in the back of the head earlier this week during an unprovoked attack. What followed was a bit of detective work by specially trained Transit Safety dispatchers, that would see a suspect charged with assault.
A veteran GO bus driver was ‘sucker punched’ from behind, as he stood on the Union Station Bus Station platform earlier this week (Nov. 9).
The assault set off a security watch that’s in place to keep customers and staff safe, helping to track down a suspect as he continued to move through the transit system.
After the driver was hit in the back of the head, and colleagues rushed to help, the assailant ran away from the Bay St. terminal. Soon after, a call went out to Metrolinx’s Transit Safety Dispatch, which handles calls for assistance along the transit agency’s vast system.
It was, in large part, the work of two dispatchers who helped track a suspect.
“Our dedicated transit safety officers along with our revenue protection officers are the frontlines of safety,” said acting Supervisor Kristen Ibrahim.
“But it is our skilled dispatchers that are the backbone of our security division.
“They pull the investigation together, quickly deliver important background information to our Special Constables in the field and pull surveillance images from cameras across our system. Their work is critical to ensuring our customers and staff remain safe from potentially violent people.”
Metrolinx has approximately 20 transit safety dispatchers, who receive thousands of calls every year – not unlike 911 operators – regarding a variety of safety concerns. Many calls involve life and death circumstances – trespassers on tracks, passenger assaults, fatalities, overdoses at stations, lost vulnerable individuals. And it takes specialized training to be prepared.
As part of their daily duties, dispatchers must access police histories (CPIC criminal record checks), which are strictly controlled by the RCMP, to assist transit safety in their investigations such as identifying suspects and checking for outstanding warrants or safety alerts. This includes any history of violence, sexual assault or weapons.
They also have access to thousands of Metrolinx CCTV cameras to assist with investigations.
Although the driver kept upright, the unexpected blow to the head stunned him, and he was unable to get a clear look at the suspect. As soon as the call came in from other bus drivers and station staff nearby, the dispatchers immediately reviewed the security camera footage.
The assault was caught on camera.
“Completely unprovoked, the accused sucker punched our driver in the back of his head and could have seriously harmed him,” Ibrahim, a five-year veteran with the Metrolinx Security Division, said. “It was shocking to review the images.”
Working together, the two dispatchers – who began working with Metrolinx in 2019 – pulled images from the video for transit safety and began reviewing other cameras nearby. Within two hours of the assault, the dispatchers tracked the accused getting on a Lakeshore West train. Keeping an eye out for him throughout the trip, the dispatchers sent transit safety to meet the suspect at Aldershot GO Station.
Along with Halton Police, a Transit Safety officer arrested the suspect – barely two and half hours after the alleged incident.
Like other frontline Metrolinx staff, the bus operator, who is recovering at home – still confused as to why someone would so violently hit him – has reported for duty every day during the pandemic to ensure the region is kept moving. He has 15 years of experience with GO transit.
There are many other staff you may not see on the frontlines – like transit safety dispatchers who also come to work every day to ensure customers and staff remain safe.
“We want our customers and our staff to know that their safety means everything to us and we will never give up,” Ibrahim said. “If someone is determined to commit a violent act on our system we will find them. We really are guardians of your journey.”
Justin Leroux, a 30-year-old suspect from Guelph, has been charged with assault.
Editor’s note – This story was changed on Nov. 12, to include the suspect’s name.
Story by Anne Marie Aikins, Metrolinx senior manager of media.