The head of King County Metro Transit says he was “shocked, incredibly disappointed and outraged” by video of a bus driver attacking a passenger who wouldn’t exit a bus and then spit on him.
(Warning: The following video contains profanity)
The incident happened November 18 at the Renton Transit Center. The video, first obtained by KING 5, shows 61-year-old driver Dennis J. Echols trying to wake a passenger who appears to be asleep. After repeatedly trying to wake Ethan S. McKinney, 23, Echols grows increasingly frustrated.
McKinney eventually gets off the bus, but spits in Echols face as he passes the driver.
An enraged Echols throws a tire wedge at McKinney, then pushes him into a bench outside the bus and begins pummeling him before throwing him to the ground.
Echols ultimately called 911, and police arrested McKinney after refusing to leave the scene.
Metro GM Kevin Desmond says he placed Echols on administrative leave as soon as he saw the video.
“I’d never seen a video like that. I’d never heard of anything remotely like that with a bus operator taking that type of action and repeatedly assaulting someone,” he says.
Metro fired the driver after an investigation on December 4. He has also been charged with assault for his role in the altercation. McKinney has been charged with assault as well for spitting on the driver.
Desmond insists it is an isolated incident and not representative of the 2,700 drivers that regularly provide “exceptional service.”
Echols had been a Metro driver since 2001 and served without any problems.
“There was nothing in his record that would have suggested that he would have engaged in something like this,” he says.
The incident is just one of a number of violent encounters on a Metro bus in recent years.
Passengers disarmed a gun-wielding man trying to rob them on a bus in West Seattle in November. Last August, an apparently mentally ill man shot a bus driver and traded gunfire with police during the morning rush hour in downtown Seattle. Several other incidents during the past three years prompted Metro to increase security across the system.
While drivers are often in harm’s way, Desmond says it’s no excuse for Echols’ reaction.
“They’re professionals and the vast majority of them deal with those things very well and they also know what tools and support they have to deal with it to keep them out of harm’s way.”