Two women who allegedly dumped liquor on a CTA bus driver and hit her with a milk crate will face felony charges — an announcement that came as transit workers rallied for more serious charges in such attacks as well as more protections on the job.
About 50 members of unions representing bus drivers and L workers protested outside a branch Cook County courthouse at 155 West 51st Street Monday in advance of a hearing about an incident involving bus driver Melissa Barker.
Barker, who attended the protest, said she was attacked on July 29 by two women while she wasdriving a bus in the 6900 block of South Halsted. The women were passengers on the bus when they approached the front, and one of the women dumped tequila on Barker and then threw the bottle over a protective barrier, barely missing her, Barker said. The second woman poured more liquor on her and struck her with a milk crate, Barker said.
According to a police report, one of the women said, “I’m gonna beat your ass” before exiting the bus. The pair then got on another bus, according to the report, but were arrested.
They were later identified in court records as Miraha Gibson, 20, and Jada Goodall, 18.Court records show that both Gibson and Goodall have had several run-ins with Chicago police.Gibson pleaded guilty to an assault in 2016 in the 6100 block of South Laflin, while Goodall pleaded guilty to retail theft last month. Both got six months of court supervision.
While drivers frequently worry about hostile run-ins with customers around fare collection, Barker said the attack was unprovoked.
“It was not an argument about fare. It wasn’t an argument about getting off the bus, anything. It was just random,” she said. “They shouldn’t have been able to get to me so easily while I’m doing my job.”
Barker went to St. Bernard Hospital in good condition, according to the police report. She was unable to work for six weeks, and is now back on light duty. She has two bulging discs in her neck and cannot yet drive a bus.
“I love my job. School time, the kids, I’m missing all that. I’m really excited to get back to work,” Barker said.
The two women were initially charged with misdemeanor battery, drawing objections from the unions and the CTA. A CTA spokesman said the agency pushed for felony charges in this and other attacks on transit workers. The Cook County state’s attorney’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
After the rally, the gathered workers lined up to go through courthouse security to attend the hearing. But as they waited, they learned prosecutors had decided to drop the misdemeanor charges with plans to file new felony charges.
Barker welcomed the news.
“It sends out a message that you cannot attack us and get away with it. … I’m very excited and I’m very happy, because maybe this will be a deterrent for other people who want to attack us,” Barker said.
She added: “I want justice for not just me, but for all of my union brothers and sisters who are just trying to move this city.”
Union leaders called for further steps to protect drivers, including more police on high-crime routes and new protective barriers that would totally enclose drivers, allowing them to interact with the public through a quick-closing window.
“Wherever a bus has [a safety barrier], it’s a deterrent. [The existing screens] are good, but they could be better,” Amalgamated Transit Union Local 241 president Keith Hill said. “We’re not trying to ostracize ourself from the public — we’re just trying to protect ourself.”
CTA spokesman Brian Steele said in a statement that the agency tried to prevent any assaults on drivers, but that attacks were rare considering the number of drivers working for the CTA.
“In our view, one assault is one too many,” Steele wrote.
The CTA has reported 22 assaults that required medical treatment this year through the end of August.
Hill says there have been about 15 attacks per month this year — if you include incidents like drivers getting spit on, which would not show up in the CTA’s numbers.
A new CTA committee is considering steps to increase driver safety, and the transit agency will launch a pilot test of a system that allows drivers to see a live feed from on-board security cameras, Steele added.
The union is also pushing the issue of driver safety nationwide, in part through proposed federal legislation that would require measures to reduce assaults, traffic accidents, and ergonomic injuries.
“There’s still a lot of work left to do” to keep drivers safe, Barker said.
Contributing: Sam Charles