WINNIPEG (The Canadian Press) — A transit driver who died after he was stabbed at the last stop of his regular night shift is being described as a popular, friendly man who planned to retire next year.
Irvine Fraser, who went by his middle name, Jubal, was 58 and had been on the job in Winnipeg since 1995 with the exception of a few years, said John Callahan, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505.
He said Fraser was a regular guy who worked hard to provide for his family.
“It’s just surreal to think that you can lose your life… just driving a bus,” Callahan said.
“We’ve talked about driver security for a long time and we always worried about this — the worst-case scenario — and it’s actually happened.”
Fraser’s death Tuesday marks the first time a Winnipeg bus driver has been killed during an assault, not a traffic accident, said Callahan.
Fraser was attacked when he reached the end of his route at the University of Manitoba just before 2 a.m., said police.
Chief Danny Smyth said there was only one passenger on the bus. Officers quickly arrived and arrested a 22-year-old suspect trying to cross the frozen Red River near campus.
An officer who later returned to look for evidence on the river fell through the ice, but was rescued, Smyth added.
First responders found Fraser with serious stab wounds and took him to hospital, where he died.
The suspect had yet to be charged Tuesday afternoon. The university said in a statement that he was not associated with the school.
“I know that this will spark debate over transit safety here in the city,” Smyth said. “But I think before we go there, it’s important that the investigators do their job to determine the circumstances.”
Smyth said he didn’t know what provoked the attack and officers were reviewing video footage from the bus.
Besides cameras, city buses are equipped with emergency buttons that connect drivers to a 9-1-1 operator. Fraser didn’t have a chance to push the button when he was attacked, said Callahan.
Friends and fellow bus drivers remembered Fraser on Facebook, and some called for added security measures.
“As a 30-year-service retired bus operator, I’m appalled & shocked,” wrote Richard Derry, a former driver.
“This should not have happened! I hope the City will wake the hell up now!” wrote Guy Pilcher. “Irvine was a well-liked guy. Always had a smile. RIP, my friend.”
Mayor Brian Bowman said the city will continue discussions with the union about how to improve bus security.
Dave Wardrop, chief transportation and utilities officer, said drivers take assault-prevention training and undercover police officers started riding buses last year. There has also been talk of putting up shields to protect drivers.
“It might be time to revisit that,” he said.
There were 60 assaults on Winnipeg transit drivers in 2015, a jump of 54 per cent from the previous year, said Callahan. The number went down to 45 assaults in 2016, partly due to undercover officers who intervened in some disputes.
Callahan believes what’s needed is an entire redesign of transit buses — an idea that’s being studied in the United States — with a full enclosure for drivers and an emergency door on the left side of the bus.
Drivers deal with passenger problems on a daily basis. Some have issues with addictions and mental health, he said.
“Do they have the tools to deal with all this? Probably not. It’s a really tough job.”
In 2009, Edmonton transit driver Tom Bregg was dragged off his bus and stomped on by a drunken passenger who refused to pay a $2.50 fare. Bregg suffered brain injuries and lost sight in one eye.
The federal government passed Bregg’s Law in 2015 allowing for judges to impose more severe penalties for attacks on bus drivers.
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