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HART speeds up the installation of safety barriers after second bus driver attack

8 On Your Side

TAMPA (WFLA) – 8 On Your Side investigates after a second HART bus driver is stabbed on the job.  Tonight, the driver is recovering at the hospital. 

“It’s overwhelming … I drove crying,” said driver Denny Crisostomo.  

Crisostomo, like other HART employees, tells 8 On Your Side she doesn’t feel safe at work.

“We are in fear again … because it happened again.”

According to Tampa police, the driver was attacked at Westbound Waters Avenue and North 9th Street on Tuesday. The suspect, 65-year-old James Ambrose, has been taken into custody.

This attack comes months after a HART bus driver was stabbed to death back in May which led to the installation of new driver safety barriers on all buses and vans.

Tampa police tell us the bus in Tuesday’s attack did not have a driver safety barrier.

HART started rolling out the new shields last month.

According to HART, approximately four out of every ten buses in the fleet still have no shields. HART tells 8 On Your Side Investigates, they’re speeding up the installation process tonight.  They will be adding the protective barriers to buses twice as fast.

Drivers say they want to know why this is only happening now after a second attack. 

“You sent the operators out this morning in the same situation that happened back in May and yesterday,” said driver Latisha Jones.

In an email, spokeswoman Carson Chambers said: “HART is receiving a rolling inventory of safety shields from the manufacturer AROW Global as production is completed.”

Right now, it’s unclear if production issues are causing the delay in installation.  8 On Your Side sent follow-up questions to Ms. Chambers.

8 On Your Side Investigates received new information from HART regarding the shields on Thursday.

The agency says the manufacturer ships out 30 custom-fit shields at a time. The contractor, who oversees installation, placed two additional workers on duty to speed up the process.

Meantime, some drivers say even the new shields don’t offer enough protection.

“The barrier can’t stop MACE,” said Yolanda Lancaster, “we need someone on the buses on these routes that’s more dangerous.”

HART Statement on Operator Assault

“On Tuesday November 19th, our long-time HART Operator was attacked while simply doing his job on board a HART bus. Our Operator came to work yesterday as a public servant doing his professional best to bring our seniors to doctor’s appointments, to take our neighbors to work and to serve Hillsborough County. Tampa Police arrested the suspect who used pepper spray to disorient our Operator and then attacked him multiple times with a box cutter.

We are thankful for a dedicated customer who had the courage to step-in and defend our Operator. This individual forced the suspect off the bus. He then stayed at our Operator’s side and called 9-1-1 for help.

HART is calling for the community’s support as we stand alongside our Operators and their families. The Tampa Police Department and HART are continuing a long standing partnership by enhancing coverage and increasing presence of law enforcement in and around HART facilities and along our service areas.

HART continues to support our employees by seeking the support of the legislative delegation and requesting an increase to the penalty for assault of a Transit Worker/Bus Operator.

We are offering on-demand professional counseling to all employees on-site today and tomorrow.”

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