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Passenger stabs, kills bus driver

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07:05 PM PDT on Friday, May 7, 2010

The Press-Enterprise

Video: Bus driver stabbed, crashes, dies in Rialto

An Omnitrans bus driver and father of eight died Friday morning after he was stabbed and his bus crashed into a tree near a busy Rialto intersection, coroner and police officials said.

Lawrence Kester, 47, of Fontana, who had driven for the south-central San Bernardino County bus system for 15 years, was pronounced dead at 11:21 a.m. at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in Colton, said Sandy Fatland, spokeswoman for the San Bernardino County coroner's office.

He is the first Omnitrans driver to be killed on duty, Omnitrans spokeswoman Wendy Williams said.
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David Bauman/The Press-Enterprise
An Omnitrans bus sits partially on the parkway of Base Line in Rialto after it crashed into a tree Friday morning. The wreck occurred after an assailant stabbed the bus driver. The driver was pronounced dead shortly after the crash and the man suspected of attacking him was arrested.

Robert Johnson, 33, of Rialto, was arrested minutes after the 10:45 a.m. attack, about 100 yards from the crash site near Riverside Avenue and Base Line, said Rialto police Lt. Joe Cirilo.

The bus was carrying four passengers, none of whom was hurt, Williams said.

Mariama Wells told of seeing the crash and watching a man run off the bus, through a bank and into a supermarket.

"When he came out of the (Stater Bros.) store, the police tackled him and put the handcuffs on," said Wells, 31, of Rialto.

While she wasn't on the bus, she said she is an occasional Omnitrans rider and recognized the driver.

"He was sitting motionless in the driver's seat with his head laying back," she said.
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Lawrence Kester

Cirilo said the suspect ran into a nearby Bank of America, where he dropped a knife, then ran to the Stater Bros. Market, where employees detained him until police arrived and took him into custody.

He said police were still trying to determine what prompted the attack. They are reviewing surveillance tapes from the bus, the bank and the supermarket.

"We're also looking for help from anyone who can shed some light on this," he said.

Moments after the crash, the passengers got off the bus, including a woman and her two teenage daughters who were crying hysterically, Wells said.

"When they put (the driver) on the stretcher, they were pumping his heart the whole time from the bus to the ambulance," Wells said.

Dale Moore, president/business agent for the Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 1704, said the local's 450 Omnitrans drivers were shaken by Kester's death.

"Larry was a great guy," Moore said. "He was a good, safe operator and a strong family man."

Moore said Omnitrans has a record of ensuring driver safety, including having cameras on all buses and radios so drivers can contact dispatch in case of problems.

"But it's a dangerous job," Moore said. "We work alone. We work early in the morning and late at night."

Williams said new drivers learn safety procedures during their initial five-week training programs and receive annual refresher training. That includes how to deal with difficult customers or situations on the bus.

"Of course we can't foresee everything that happens," Williams said. "This seems to have been totally unexpected."
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David Bauman/The Press-Enterprise
Bus passengers wait to be interviewed by police after the transit bus they were riding in crashed into a tree Friday in Rialto.

Brad Weaver, spokesman for the Riverside Transit Agency, said drivers at that agency receive annual training on how to spot potentially dangerous passengers and are told they are not required to allow them to board the bus.

Weaver said from March 2009 through February 2010, 39 crimes were reported out of 6.4 million boardings on directly operated RTA buses. The crimes include graffiti, verbal assaults or a rock through a window.

"It's uncommon for our drivers to be physically assaulted," Weaver said.

All RTA buses have cameras and radios and some have GPS systems.

Anyone who saw the Rialto attack is asked to call police at 909-820-2550.

Staff writer Richard Brooks and staff photographer David Bauman contributed to this report.

Reach Steven Barrie at 951-368-9466 or

Reach Sandra Stokley at 951-368-9647 or

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