Metro bus driver Eric Stark tells how he escaped Lake City shooting
He’s being referred to as a hero after the Lake City shooting by everyone from Mayor Jenny Durkan to Seattle Police Deputy Chief Marc Garth Green. But for King County Metro driver Eric Stark, backing up his bus and getting his passengers to safety — after being shot in the chest — was all a part of his duty.
Two people were killed, and two others, including Stark, were wounded when 33-year-old Tad Michael Norman allegedly opened fire on drivers Wednesday afternoon in Seattle’s Lake City neighborhood. The King County Prosecutor’s Office charged Norman on Friday with two counts of murder in the first degree and three of attempted murder in the first degree.
Stark was driving his route, the #75, south along Sand Point Way Northeast near Northeast 123rd Street when he noticed a man who appeared to be running for the bus — not an uncommon sight for bus drivers like Stark.
“He’s running for the bus stop, and he tripped, and he just face-planted the pavement,” Stark said. “This guy fell hard, and I thought, ‘Oh man, he’s hurt. I’m probably going to have to call for medical attention for this guy.'”
As Stark prepared to get medical aid, the man lying on the ground at the bus shelter then rolled over, displaying what Stark could see was a gun. Without a moment’s notice, the man who had just appeared to be badly hurt was standing up and taking aim.
“He got to his feet, very calmly, he got into a shooting stance, just like you’re shooting at a paper target at the range,” Stark said.
Confused, Stark stopped the bus. The next thing he knew, the windshield’s glass shattered and he felt a wave of pain as something hit his side. A bullet had gone into the left side of his chest — missing his heart — had come out of his armpit, and gone into his bicep.
“The first thing that went through my head was, ‘I’ve been shot. I’ve been shot in the left chest.’ And I thought, ‘Well, that’s not good,'” Stark said. “And I thought, ‘I’m not afraid to die. But I don’t want to die today. And I don’t want any of these people on my bus, for whom I’m responsible, I don’t want any of them to die today.'”
He was firm that he would only worry about his own health after his passengers were out of harm’s way. He leaned to the right, out of the gunman’s trajectory.
Stark assessed his own abilities and found that he could still move his hands and feet, and was still clear-headed enough to drive.
“I just said, ‘Okay, that’s good enough for us to get out of here. We’re getting out of here,'” he recalled.
He put the bus in reverse and alerted Metro via the emergency alert button that there was a dangerous situation.
One passenger screamed to be let off the bus, but Stark knew that every passenger was safer on board, getting away from the shooter, than running on foot headlong into the violence. Stark took everyone on his bus to safety, and was then taken to Harborview Medical Center.
Five days after the Lake City shooting, he remains in the hospital, but is out of ICU and able to walk. He looks forward to returning to work as soon as he is able.
Stark disputes the alleged shooter’s claims of being blackout drunk during the incident. For one, he said, plenty of people get blackout drunk all the time without going on a shooting spree. Even more importantly, for someone who was supposedly that drunk, the shooting was incredibly precise.
“I go to the range, I know what it looks like to get into a shooting stance, and he sure had the ability, even blackout drunk as he claims, to get into a pretty good shooting stance, take aim, and the first couple shots that hit the bus were right on target,” Stark said.
He did say that he bears no ill will toward the man responsible for the Lake City shooting and hopes that the gunman “gets the help he needs.”
But despite what the people of Seattle say, Stark is convinced that he himself is not a ‘hero.’
“I honestly believe that any Metro bus driver in my position would have done the same thing,” he said. “You just do what you’re trained to do, and you do what you’re physically able to do in that moment.”
A GoFundMe is raising money for Stark’s medical expenses.