CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Just under a week after a Charlotte Area Transit System bus driver and passenger shot each other during an argument, the CATS interim chief updated other city officials on the safety aboard city transportation Wednesday.
Brent Cagle, the interim CEO for CATS, said the driver, David Fullard, and the suspect, Omarri Tobias, are in stable condition as of Wednesday. Cagle also said RATP Dev, the third-party operator of the city's buses, 'has parted ways' with Fullard.
Fullard was driving a bus along Route 56 last Thursday in Charlotte's Steele Creek neighborhood when Tobias asked to get off the bus between established bus stops, according to Cagle. When Fullard refused to stop the bus, Tobias pulled out a gun, Cagle said confirming information previously released by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.
As previously reported, Fullard pulled the bus over, and pulled out his own gun and the two men fired shots at each other, Cagle reiterated Wednesday.
While Tobias appeared before a judge Thursday who raised his bond, Cagle said CMPD has not yet announced whether Fullard could be charged for firing his own unauthorized weapon inside the city bus.
CATS noted it's against RATP Dev policy for an operator to have a weapon of any kind while on duty.
CATS said they would release surveillance video from the bus pending approval by the Transportation Security Administration.
Cagle said Allied Universal, the security firm contracted by the city to provide security guards for CATS, is no longer placing security guards on city buses because of staffing issues.
The contract with Allied Universal ends on June 30, according to Cagle. Two other security companies will take over in July. Cagle has asked one of the city's new security contractors to start early to fill the gap.
Attorney Ken Harris, who represents Fullard, told WCNC Charlotte earlier this week these incidents of bus drivers being hurt and assaulted while doing their jobs are a persistent problem in the city. He said his clients, like many other drivers, just want safeguards put in place to protect them in their workplace.
“You have these incidents that happen over and over again, where drivers are being assaulted, shot at, shot, or killed,” Harris said earlier this week. “It creates a situation where drivers fear that they won’t make it home.“
Tobias is facing several charges including assault with a deadly weapon.
Harris said safety is a long-standing issue within the transit system. Fullard had worked with the agency for nearly 20 years.
“Mr. Fullard is a long-term employee of the CATS bus system," Harris said, prior to the announcement that RATP Dev had parted ways with Fullard. "He loves his job and he wants to continue to be there and we want to make sure we address any issues that could come up related to this incident."
Harris said bus drivers finding themselves in violent situations while working is not uncommon. He said he has represented several CATS employees. Harris added bus drivers should not be afraid to come to work.
“They have been requesting for years for more protection on the bus because it is becoming more apparent that this is a dangerous job,” Harris said.
However, Cagle said the investigation found Fullard did not use any of the three alarm systems available to bus drivers during emergencies. He added it's standard procedure to not allow passengers off in between stops but drivers are allowed to if needed, which could've de-escalated the situation.
"If they believe that it’s in the best interest and they can do that safely, to let the passenger out even at an undesignated stop, that’s completely a reasonable action for them to take," Cagle said.
Charlotte City Councilman Ed Driggs said the city is already working on stepping up security efforts on buses because of previous incidents like this shooting.
"We will be doubling the budget from $7 [million] to $14 million, that we commit to security measures on the buses in the current budget and next year, over two years,” Driggs said.
The 2024 proposed budget for CATS includes funding for an expanded security contract, operator and employee training, and upgrading and replacement of cameras and mobile video systems.
“We are going to engage with outside parties to find ways to make the buses safer, and to prevent the general violence in the city from finding its way into a bus,” Driggs said.
Cagle said the agency will also be increasing de-escalation training and making it interactive for employees.
Those are efforts Harris said are much needed.
"Every day there is a possibility of these types of circumstances,” Harris said. “We hope that they live up to their word to whatever that is in terms of implementing some new safeguard so these drivers, can go to work, work in safety and get home.”
The two other passengers on the bus last week in Steele Creek were not injured.
Among safety and security incidents on CATS buses is the 2022 shooting death of CATS bus driver Ethan Rivera.
Darian Dru Thavychith was arrested for Rivera's death. CMPD said Rivera was shot while driving along West Trade Street near Truist Ballpark on Feb. 11, 2022. He died from his injuries the next day.
Contact Julia Kauffman at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
WCNC Charlotte's Jesse Pierre contributed to this report. You can contact Jesse at email@example.com or follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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