Rantz: After hours unnoticed on Seattle bus, unresponsive man pronounced dead at end of shift

Mar 15, 2022, 6:50 PM | Updated: Mar 16, 2022, 7:39 am
metro bus...
A utility service worker for King County Metro deep cleans a bus as part of its usual cleaning routine at the King County Metro Atlantic/Central operating base on March 3, 2020, in Seattle. (Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)
(Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)

A King County Metro service worker found an unresponsive man on a Seattle bus after the end of a driver’s shift. He was pronounced dead after medics were called. The 30-year-old victim had been on the bus for hours before being noticed, though it’s unclear if the man died during or after the end of the shift.

At around 6:20 p.m. on March 10, a service worker found the man on a coach that was parked at the Ryerson Base in downtown Seattle. The bus driver had already ended their shift. Seattle Fire Department arrived but could not help the man. Medics pronounced the unidentified man dead at 7:24 p.m.

There’s now an investigation into the evening’s events. How did the passenger go unnoticed for so long? Would early intervention have saved his life?

Rantz: King County Metro says it supports Ukraine — too bad it doesn’t support Seattle riders

How did he go unnoticed?

Neither the passenger’s identity nor the cause of death has been released. But King County Metro says the victim was on the Route 124 bus for several hours before being found by a service worker. This route travels between downtown Seattle and Tukwila.

“Preliminary information is the passenger boarded earlier in the afternoon. We’re working to confirm the elements of the timeline of this incident,” a King County Metro spokesperson told the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH.

Bus drivers are supposed to check their coach for sleeping or intoxicated customers throughout their shifts. They are not supposed to bring passengers onto the base. Protocol, in this case, may not have been followed, though the spokesperson says, “Metro is reviewing this incident.”

“All operators are instructed to check their coach for sleeping/intoxicated customers and that no passengers are to be brought onto a base,” the spokesperson explained. “If an operator finds a passenger that is unresponsive, they are to use their best judgment in attempting to wake them, and to call a coordinator if they don’t feel safe in doing so.”

King County Metro transit operator Erik Christensen, a colleague of the driver, tells the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH that the driver did check the cab. It might have been an unfortunate mistake.

“We’re supposed to check our buses before we leave. And I know that driver did,” Christensen explained. “We’ve also become, well, complacent — some of us because we see it so often. So when we look back, such as in my case, I’ve made that mistake. … Didn’t result in death, fortunately, but I’ve made the mistake of just doing a cursory look. And then the second look realizing ‘oh, there’s somebody on the bus.’ It’s sad that it happened.”

Is this an end result of a homeless trend?

It’s hard not to connect this incident to the ongoing homelessness crisis, even though it’s unclear if the passenger was homeless. If so, it wouldn’t surprise everyday riders or drivers who have long complained that homeless individuals have taken over some routes.

Fares aren’t enforced under the false claim that it’s racist. But activists and lawmakers also complain that it disproportionately impacts the homeless. This is obviously true: Fare enforcement impacts people who do not pay fares. That’s the point.

But the lack of enforcement means that the homeless ride for free, oftentimes using the bus to sleep or abuse drugs.

Christensen says he deals with a homeless addict abusing drugs on his bus at least four times a week.

“They seem to favor the express routes or those that don’t make a lot of stops because it gives them more time to do what they need to do,” Christensen explained. “And it gives them time to sit back and enjoy the high, which usually involves passing out in most cases.”

It’s hard to believe another passenger on the bus didn’t notice the man. If this wasn’t such a common occurrence on a bus — a man looking to be passed out — perhaps there could have been early intervention from a fellow passenger.

Will anything be done to address the issue?

Bus drivers filed a historic number of complaints with King County Metro in 2021. They say they’ve seen an uptick in homeless people smoking narcotics on the bus. I’ve personally seen addicts smoking either meth or fentanyl in the back of the bus, not caring they’re impacting other passengers.

Rather than publicly address the issue in a meaningful way, Metro has instead declared its support for Ukraine in the fight against Russia. While that virtue-signaling may earn the agency some social currency, it does nothing to address the user and driver experience on the bus.

More concerning, it does nothing to end the suffering of addicts. Early intervention may get them on the right path, but city and county officials prefer not to be proactive in aggressive treatment.

Rantz: Fare enforcement is now racist in Seattle because… equity

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Rantz: After hours unnoticed on Seattle bus, unresponsive man pronounced dead at end of shift