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Originally published August 16, 2013 at 9:39 PM | Page modified August 17, 2013 at 12:09 AM

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Driver recalls panic aboard bus before gunman was slain

The driver of a Seattle transit bus recounts how he and passengers dived for cover Monday, avoiding a gunman who had forced his way onboard.

Seattle Times transportation reporter

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Excellent job keeping his composure during a crisis situation by the bus driver Justin... MORE
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Fifteen seconds.

From his first glimpse of the ranting gunman, to the last bullet fired by police, King County Metro bus driver Justin Onedera says he barely had time to react during Monday morning’s rampage.

Onedera, 33, was driving a Route 120 bus, with about 40 people aboard, on a quiet commute from White Center and Delridge via the Alaskan Way Viaduct to downtown.

Exiting onto Seneca Street, he stopped before Second Avenue, even though the light was green, he recalls. An unmarked police car with flashing lights blocked his uphill route. Officers were already pursuing Martin Duckworth, who had just shot another bus driver, DeLoy Dupuis, in the arm and cheek on Third Avenue, near Benaroya Hall.

Suddenly, Onedera glimpsed Duckworth, running south with a gun in his left hand, turning toward the driver’s window.

“He had it right at my face, the whole time. But it wasn’t a very large weapon. All I saw was the barrel. At first, I didn’t know what to do,” Onedera recalled during a half-hour interview Friday at Westfield Southcenter Mall.

“I could hear him yelling: ‘Open the [expletive] door!’ ”

Then instinct kicked in and Onedera followed his Metro training, which is to open the rear door so passengers can escape. He pushed the rear-door button, near his left hip.

But the front-door button was alongside it, and he accidentally opened the front door, then tried to close it, within about two seconds.

The attacker’s face was hidden behind black weatherstripping where the two parts of the door meet.

“All I saw was the gun through the window of the door. He was basically trying to squeeze in,” the driver recalled.

“I unbuckled my seat belt and ran down the aisle, and just dropped to the ground.”

Onedera wound up behind a seat, where the articulated bus bends.

By this time, a few passengers had fled out the rear doors or through a window. Another six to eight hit the floor in the far back, a passenger told The Seattle Times this week.

If this had been a normal morning trip, the bus would have continued one more block uphill, then offload maybe half its passengers at a hillside stop, before turning left onto Third Avenue. Chances are the Route 120 regulars Monday were anticipating the stop, stowing their books and phones, even rising from their seats.

“That probably saved a lot of passengers,” Onedera guesses.

When he hit the floor, he bruised his left shoulder, near where he had previously broken an arm falling from a ladder, but he felt no pain. That came later.

He heard shots.

After 10 to 15 seconds, Onedera says he crawled toward the front, where only three passengers remained. One was down behind a seat. But an older woman and a child were in a seat at the very front, clutching each other, just a few feet from the driver’s seat, where at least nine bullets had pierced the front windows.

Then he saw the gunman, motionless near the driver’s seat. Duckworth died later that day.

The older woman was screaming. Onedera says he led the two out the rear door.

“I wasn’t feeling scared at the time, because I was getting people off,” he said.

Many passengers were herded into a parking garage, then gave statements to police. Some just left the scene. The owner of a red bicycle didn’t feel like hanging around, and left it on the front rack, Onedera said.

The girl worried she had been hit by flying glass, but Onedera checked and found no cuts on her legs.

Onedera thinks Seattle police made a difficult, split-second decision to shoot Duckworth and did the right thing. “It’s just kind of a miracle,” he said, that nobody else was wounded.

Metro supervisors kept Onedera company throughout the day, as he gave statements and filled out forms. He publicly thanks Metro base chief, Tutti Compton, base superintendent Bill Burdick and Paul Bachtel, president of the transit workers union.

“I just want to say that Metro’s been there for me,” he said.

Not until the next morning, did the emotions fully hit.

Onedera learned that the girl at the front the bus was the cousin of his brother-in-law’s wife and the older woman was her grandmother.

Onedera says he has slept OK and forgone medications. What haunts him is waking up to see flashbacks, especially the grandmother and granddaughter frozen in the front seat.

He mentioned a hard-to-explain “survival guilt” and wishes he’d done more — this despite the fact nobody other than the gunman was severely injured, and Onedera acted properly when he opened the rear door.

Onedera said he was born in Guam, moved to Federal Way in 1995 and became a part-time Metro driver in 2005, while studying at Highline Community College. He was aiming to learn computer science, but was offered full-time work and fell in love with driving the bus.

He works the “extra board,” which involves being assigned to different routes, usually two commutes with several hours between, often a 12-hour day. The job is so busy, so full of meeting people, that the hours pass quickly, he said.

On a doctor’s advice, Onedera said he’ll wait several weeks before he decides whether to resume driving for Metro. He is currently on paid leave.

He thought video games might provide an escape, but he hasn’t enjoyed them this week. Simply spending time with his wife, Raquel, and two young children is the best way to relax, he said.

Thursday evening, the couple celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary, at home south of Seattle, with their kids and a couple friends.

For dinner and for relaxation, Onedera says he made his wife’s favorite sushi, a spicy salmon roll.

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

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