Old Town woman seeks improved bus security after sexual assault

A local woman wrenches her hands as she talks to BDN reporter Dawn Gagnon (background) about her ordeal aboard a Greyhound bus in New York last month where she says she was sexually assaulted by a stranger seated next to her.
John Clarke Russ | BDN
A local woman wrenches her hands as she talks to BDN reporter Dawn Gagnon (background) about her ordeal aboard a Greyhound bus in New York last month where she says she was sexually assaulted by a stranger seated next to her.
By Dawn Gagnon, BDN Staff
Posted May 11, 2012, at 8:25 p.m.

OLD TOWN, Maine – A 41-year-old Old Town woman who told police she was molested by a fellow traveler on a Greyhound Lines bus last month is going public with her story in an effort to help catch the suspect and to warn others.

The woman, whose name is being withheld because the Bangor Daily News does not identify victims, said this week that she wants to see security on Greyhound buses tightened up by requiring, among other things, that passengers be asked to show identification, as is required by some of the other bus lines that serve the region.

“What I’m afraid of is that other people have been abused, that other people have been assaulted, and that they have not felt comfortable making a report. I don‘t want anybody else to have to go through that,” she said in an interview Thursday evening.

“I would like to see [Greyhound do more in terms of] security. There’s security at airports. They look and see. They check you. [They require that passengers] show identification,” she said.

“The only way we are going to catch this man is [because we had to go through] customs” at the international border crossing at Buffalo, N.Y., where the accused molester would have been required to show identification, including a passport, she said.

“Normally [Greyhound drivers and terminal employees] don’t ask your name. They don’t ask you for identification. I don’t feel that just because you can’t afford to fly you should be penalized.”

The assault has been reported to Greyhound and the New York State Police. The New York State Police is working with the Department of Homeland Security in an effort to determine the identity of the man who assaulted her, Investigator James Hunt said this week. The suspect had not been identified as of Friday.

Hunt said that assault, thefts and other crimes are not uncommon nationally and that in his jurisdiction alone, there are at least two or three assault cases each year. They typically happen to bus, train and subway passengers while they are asleep, he said.

A quick Internet search turned up similar incidents in Pittsburgh, Pa., Louisiana and Kansas, to name a few.

A Greyhound spokesman on Friday expressed regret for what happened to the woman.

“We greatly apologize for this passenger’s travel experience,” Tim Stokes of Greyhound’s corporate headquarters in Dallas, Texas, said Friday. “The safety and security of our passengers is our core value and something we take very seriously.”

Stokes confirmed that the bus line’s ticket agents do not require that identification be shown, unless a credit card is used to purchase a ticket. He added that whether to ask for ID otherwise is up to the agent’s discretion.

“Sometimes we ask for identification if a passenger appears to be underage [for traveling alone],” he said.

He said that while the bus line does evaluate its processes annually, there is no plan to require that passengers show identification.

According to the victim, the incident happened on April 25 during a bus trip from Toronto, Ontario, where she had been visiting a friend, to Bangor.

During the trip, she said, the bus became very full and she wound up with a male seatmate whom she described as about 5 feet 7 inches tall, husky, dark skinned and with an accent. He told her his name was Ryan and that he was from South America. She also recalled that there were red blotches in the whites of his eyes and that he had no luggage.

She said the man attempted to befriend her at the international border crossing in Buffalo, N.Y., by telling her what to expect while going through customs.

The assault happened later in the trip, after she fell asleep after a brief stop in Syracuse, N.Y., she said.

“It was getting late and people were starting to fall asleep on the bus and the only thing I noticed was a screaming baby at the front, which is the reason I sat at the back of the bus,” she said. “And I stretched out and closed my eyes and started to fall asleep,” she said, adding that she placed her jacket on the armrest between his seat and hers to make sure she wouldn’t accidentally touch him. The assault happened after she dozed off.

“He reached over and he grabbed my left breast. He tried to stick his hands into my shirt and I pulled away from him. I was very shocked. I had fallen asleep so I was very startled,” she said, her anger about what happened evident on her face and in her voice.

“… Nobody appeared to be awake. There were people with ear buds in, I remember that.”

While she was still trying to figure out what to do, the man persisted.

“He grabbed my left shoulder and pulled me toward him and said, ‘Give me a kiss’ and tried to suck on my neck. And I took my right fist and I hit him and I said, ‘Don’t touch me’ and he said, ‘You are being rude.’” She put her backpack between her legs and his, moved as far away from him as she could and told him again not to touch her. She began watching highway signs to determine when the next stop might be.

The man still wouldn’t let up, she said.

“He tried to rub my back and I pushed him away and he fell asleep. He started snoring and I stayed awake all night and I waited,” she said. When the bus stopped in Newark, N.J., the driver turned on the lights. She said she grabbed her backpack and jumped up to get into line to get off.

“When I got off the bus, I did not look back. It was 6 something in the morning. I ran into the station. No police officer was in sight, none. I couldn’t find anybody that worked there. I did not even know which line I was supposed to get into to go to Maine,” she recalled.

She finally found someone to show her which line was for those traveling to Maine and she told the people in the line what happened to her. When she reboarded, she sat at the front of the bus and next to a woman.

The woman said Thursday that she didn’t immediately report the incident to the bus driver because he had told passengers that because of post-9/11 security measures, no one was allowed to approach him or go beyond a certain seat.

“He made it very clear that if there were problems, you’d be off the bus,” she said. She said she needed to get back to Maine.

She eventually told a bus driver in Boston, who asked her, “‘For real?’ and I said, ‘Yes’ and that I hit him [the alleged assaulter]. And he said, ‘Did you report it to the police?’ and I said, ‘There were none in sight.’”

The day after she returned home, she reported the incident to Greyhound and called Old Town police, who referred her to police in New York, she said. She also has hired an attorney.

Investigator Hunt said that the investigation indicates that the man provided her “misleading” information as a way to hide his identity. There was no passenger named Ryan on the bus, according to information he received from the Department of Homeland Security.

Since reporting the incident to Greyhound, she has been contacted by one of the company’s insurance adjusters.

“She said they felt for me but there was nothing they could do,” she said. She said the adjuster told her she should have reported the assault to a Greyhound employee. The woman alleges that when she said she planned to go to the media, the adjuster said that “would not be beneficial.”

Stokes recommended that riders inform Greyhound staff immediately in the event of assaults and other problems.

“If a passenger does happen to witness or be involved with any type of incident they are concerned with while riding Greyhound, we ask that they immediately notify their driver or any staff members at our locations,” he said. “All drivers and employees are highly trained to provide the safest travel experience for all of our passengers.”

Asked what she would do differently in the future, the Old Town woman said she would sit at the front of the bus, regardless of screaming babies, and that she would try to stay awake.

She also said she would bring mace, a knife or some other means of defending herself.

That, however, is prohibited by Greyhound.

http://bangordailynews.com/2012/05/11/news/state/old-town-woman-seeks-improved-bus-security-after-sexual-assault/ printed on August 23, 2014