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Originally published January 27, 2010 at 8:58 PM | Page modified January 28, 2010 at 7:22 PM

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Corrected version

Beaten Metro bus driver says she wasn't fast enough

A 14-year-old boy who is accused of beating a bus driver unconscious early Saturday was charged Wednesday with two counts of assault.

Seattle Times staff reporters

The Metro bus driver who was knocked unconscious last weekend says she was attacked because she didn't react fast enough when one young passenger, anxious to get off, called out, "Back door, bitch."

It's a term she hears all too often on her route, she said, so she only opened the front door of the bus, the standard Metro policy at night.

"It was just like any other night, any other route," she said, until she was assaulted just after midnight Saturday as her Route 124 bus was stopped on International Boulevard South in Tukwila.

The driver, a 56-year-old grandmother of five, was found bleeding and taken to a hospital. She is now recovering at her Seattle home and expects to drive again — just not soon. She spoke to The Seattle Times by phone Wednesday.

A 14-year-old boy was charged Wednesday with two counts of assault in connection with the attack. The Renton High School ninth-grader could face a maximum sentence of 15 weeks to three years in juvenile detention if he's convicted.

The teen is not being named because he is being charged in juvenile court. Initially, prosecutors said the boy was 15. But during a hearing Thursday morning the boy's mother said he was 14 years old.

According to court charging papers, the teen swore at the driver and "cussed" her out because she wouldn't let him out the back door of the bus after some of his friends were allowed to use the door.

The teen told King County sheriff's deputies he never hit the woman, but the driver identified the 14-year-old as "the face I saw just before I lost consciousness."

Several other teens who were with the boy that night told investigators the 14-year-old had bragged just before the assault that he planned to beat up the driver, prosecutors allege.

Two boys who were with the teen — a 16-year-old and a 17-year-old — were charged Wednesday with malicious mischief for punching and kicking out windows on the back door of the bus, prosecutors said. Police put them at the crime scene because the soles of their shoes matched prints left on the bus door, charging papers said.

The 14-year-old and the 17-year-old remain in jail; the 16-year-old has been released on electronic home-monitoring.

All three boys pleaded not guilty Thursday morning during their arraignment in juvenile court. Among those in the courtroom was Rick Sepolen, vice president and assistant business representative of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 587. He said he was there "to show his support for the operator and to impress upon the individuals that more than one person was affected by the actions they took."

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The 14- and 16-year-olds don't have criminal records. The 17-year-old was arrested last year on a misdemeanor, prosecutor said. Two of the three boys had been drinking alcohol on the night of the attack, prosecutors said.

Dan Donohoe, spokesman for the Prosecutor's Office, said the 14-year-old boy was charged with second-degree assault because of injuries inflicted on the woman. A lesser charge of third-degree assault also was filed against the boy because state law says that an attack on a transit operator can result in the charge, Donohoe said.

The Prosecutor's Office said the 14-year-old is not eligible for adult prosecution because of his age, lack of criminal history and other factors. However, prosecutors will request a sentence above the standard range on the assault charge based on the seriousness of the offense.

Metro rules say drivers are to use only the front door after 7 p.m. but can open back doors if they have security concerns. One reason to leave the back door closed is to avoid letting drunks get on, the driver mentioned.

"When you get called the B-word on these routes, you get used to that," said the driver, who didn't want her name used because she remains frightened. "My instinct was not to open the back door just because they used that word."

So she answered, "Front door."

At some point, she did open the back door, she recalls, but "I didn't do it quickly enough for them to suit their need."

She says someone stormed the front of the bus before she really comprehended the threat. After nearly seven years of bus driving, she said she's used to teenagers being aggressive.

She said the boy who assaulted her deserves jail time, but she doesn't have an opinion yet about how much.

"I do want him to be incarcerated, of some sort. But I also want equal, if not more, time for him to get the help he needs to establish himself in an adult world. He's at a vulnerable age right now. ... And his anger needs to be turned into something positive in his life.

"He needs to realize he can get just as much attention doing good things for people.

Mike Lindblom: 206- 515-5631 or mlindblom@seattletimes.com

Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or jensullivan@seattletimes.com

Earlier version of this story, published January, 27, 2010 and corrected January 28, 2010, gave an incorrect age for the boy accused of assaulting the Metro bus driver. He is 14. We regret the error.

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