DENVER (KDVR) — The RTD documented at least 178 passenger reports of assault or injury during 2021 and the first two months of 2022, according to a Problem Solvers analysis of RTD records.
Combined, the 15 and 15L bus lines, which travel along Colfax Avenue between Denver and Aurora, accounted for more than a third of all documented incidents.
The 15 route, the most heavily used of all routes, had 42 reports of assault or injury and the 15L had 19.
The MALL bus route, which travels along the 16th Street Mall, had the second-highest count of incidents at 18.
Some assaults were not reported, officially documented, or provided in the data the Problem Solvers received.
Murder on the RTD
“It’s always something. There’s always something on the 15,” said Chamera Davis, whose mother, Helene Brooks, was murdered while riding that route in August. “If you live in Denver, you know it’s always something on that 15, 15L. It’s always something crazy.”
Another passenger punched Brooks in the head, stomped on her chest and dragged her off the bus by her ankle, where he left her to die.
Shootings on the RTD
“For some of those routes, they really need to have security on them,” said Olivia Maxwell, whose teen son, Jerimiah Topping, was shot while he was riding the 121 bus near Albrook Drive and Peoria Street in January 2021. “Armed security.”
The Problem Solvers found only two incidents reported on the 121, which travels from Nine Mile Station to 40th Avenue and Airport Boulevard between January 2021 and the end of February 2022.
Maxwell told the Problem Solvers her son suffered significant injuries.
According to Maxwell, Topping lost parts of his left lung and some of his large and small intestines. She said he has no feeling in his left arm and he had to have a hip replacement.
“It should not have ever went down the way it went down,” said Maxwell, who said a conflict between the teen shooter and her son started at an RTD Park-n-Ride. “Security should have been notified right then and there.”
“Always keep your eyes open, ears to the floor. Just always pay attention to your surroundings,” she said. “Also, the drivers need protection.”
Topping’s shooting was one of two the Problem Solvers found in the data. Last year, FOX31 interviewed a shooter who said he was involved in a self-defense incident that escalated from a verbal argument to gunfire on a 15L bus in July.
“He ended up getting me down on the ground between two bus seats, and I was on my back,” said William Farnsworth, a passenger who shot a teenager after getting involved in a physical altercation with him.
Farnsworth said the altercation started after he asked the kid to stop vaping on the bus.
“I was losing consciousness the whole fight,” he told Problem Solvers reporter Rob Low.
The Problem Solvers found a variety of types of documented assaults and injuries, including stabbings, fights and people inhaling substances and collapsing.
Pregnant, praying and disabled passengers harassed
In one incident, a fight broke out because one passenger started harassing another passenger who was praying. The suspect punched the praying individual from behind. The suspect was also spitting on the floor, according to RTD records, and said he was COVID-19 positive.
Another incident involved a drunk passenger who was shouting at and pushing a pregnant passenger’s stomach. The suspect also took off her pants and urinated on the ground.
A man in a wheelchair was assaulted by another passenger who struck him as he was leaving the bus. That same passenger returned to the bus to strike the person again.
In another incident, a boarding passenger did not want to wait for an “ADA walker female and blind man” who were exiting the bus, according to RTD documents that described the situation as “hostile.”
“Situation became physical and punches were thrown,” the record said.
Passengers in other assaults used various objects as weapons – including a skateboard, a toolbox, a baton, a knife and pepper spray.
“I think random security would probably be a good idea,” said Chris Rouse, who was caught in the middle of an altercation between his friend and another passenger on his ride home from work at the airport.
“You should be able to ride safely on RTD. You shouldn’t feel like you’re going to get on the bus, and you don’t know if you’re going to walk off the bus alive or not,” he said.
Rouse’s friend, Amy Nelson, suffered a bloody nose after Nelson got into a confrontation with a passenger who was playing loud music on the bus.
“At one point, he had his thumb in my eye socket,” said Nelson, “and my eye started to come off – out. My eye socket still hurt, so I grabbed his hand, and I pulled it around. It was just like an animal, like an octopus all over my face.”
Rouse said he has noticed more violence in recent years. He said there are more intoxicated passengers as well as additional homeless people who ride for shelter and a place to sleep.
“It’s affecting everyone in the community. It’s affecting people going to work,” he said. “It’s really a problem for the entire community.”
RTD makes changes to increase safety
Earlier this year, RTD General Manager and CEO Debra Johnson told the Problem Solvers that the bus line with the most incidents is also the most heavily used route.
“We do actually have individuals from the security ranks that ride that system,” Johnson said.
When asked whether RTD was working to address routes with higher numbers of reported assaults, Johnson said, “What we’re doing is looking at the incidents and discerning where is the greatest problem and then allocating resources that are available to actually help mitigate those circumstances.”
When the Problem Solvers reached out this month to see whether RTD had changed any security tactics on the 15 and 15L, RTD responded by saying, “RTD has moved to ‘impact teams’ and one of the teams is directly assigned to buses to help mitigate issues for bus-related incidents. RTD also have Denver Police and Aurora Police teams that handle bus issues. The teams are assigned to lines (like the 15/15L) that have higher number of incidents.”
The impact teams, according to RTD, started in early April and are “going to problem bus routes based on operator incident reports and crime data,” said Marta Sipeki, the interim assistant general manager in the communications department at RTD.
The bus impact teams will be made up of an RTD transit police sergeant and officers, as well as Allied security officers. They will work in collaboration with Denver and Aurora police officers, Sipeki said.
RTD also developed a mental health impact team, which includes mental health clinicians and a homeless outreach coordinator, and a community engagement impact team, which includes an RTD police sergeant and communications assisted personnel, Sipeki said.