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Attacked HART driver says he asked for protective shields years ago

Hillsborough County

Agency said "too expensive"

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — The latest HART bus driver to be viciously attacked on the job says he warned his employer about threats like this years ago.

Speaking from his hospital room at Tampa General, Schnaider Prophete told 8 On Your Side he suggested protective shields for bus drivers six years ago. At the time, Prophete says HART told him it would cost too much money.

HART only began installing protective shields this year, after a driver was killed in a random knife attack back in May.

“It’s cheaper to prevent something from happening, than react to it when it’s happening,” Prophete said Wednesday. The bus Prophete was attacked on did not have a shield installed yet.

While this is the first time he’s been attacked in his 15 year career, Prophete explained that encountering dangerous, unstable passengers is an everyday occurrence.

Prophete could tell the man who attacked him Tuesday afternoon was trouble from the start. He described the man, later identified by police as James Lee Ambrose, as cursing and smoking something that wasn’t a cigarette.

Prophete was five minutes from finishing his route when Ambrose tried to get on the bus near Waters and Nebraska. Prophete says when Ambrose couldn’t pay the fare, he attacked with mace and a box cutter.

Ambrose ran off when a passenger jumped in to assist Prophete. He was soon apprehended by police.

Prophete calls the man who helped him, identified as John Phelps by police, his “guardian angel.”

“If he didn’t step in, I probably wouldn’t be talking to you,” he said. Prophete credits Phelps and both of their military backgrounds for likely saving his life.

“My first instinct was to go home alive and to defend myself,” he said.

Despite promises by HART that all buses will have shield protection by the end of the year, Prophete isn’t sure he’ll be going back once he’s better.

“The physical healing process may come fairly good,” he said. “But the mental healing process may take a little longer.”

HART put out a statement Wednesday in response to Prophete’s attack, in part saying that the agency is working with lawmakers to increase the penalty for bus driver assaults.

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