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TriMet delves into new complaint

Passengers claim same driver involved as last altercation


by: FILE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - The 57 bus line connects Forest Grove to Beaverton. Last year another mother complained about being kicked off the bus.Less than a year after TriMet was in the national spotlight because of a bus driver's attitude toward a mother and her crying child, the agency is investigating another incident of a mother and crying children allegedly forced off the Line 57 bus late at night on June 7.

Three passengers who were on the bus at the time say it is the same driver who was involved in the incident last year.

In September, TriMet driver Claudeen Hendren served a 10-day suspension after she berated a young Forest Grove mother about her crying child. The young mother got off the bus in Hillsboro and several riders left in protest about what they viewed as Hendren's unprofessional behavior.

Now TriMet is investigating the latest incident in Forest Grove that has striking similarities to the case last fall. In the new incident, a woman and her four children (ages 2, 6, 11 and 13) were told to leave the bus at about 11 p.m. after an argument about a fare with a Line 57 bus driver. The mother and her children were in tears during the incident.

TriMet won't disclose the name of the driver until its investigation is complete. And officials with Amalgamated Transit Union Local 757, which represents TriMet drivers, also refused to name the driver.

But both the mother who was kicked off the bus, her teenage daughter and the only other adult passenger at the time say they are certain Hendren was the bus driver, based on a photo of Hendren that was released last fall.

Planning to pay

Regardless of who was driving the bus, it is clear from public records and interviews with the people in the June 7 incident that the argument between the driver and the mother, Maria Ruiz of Cornelius, became heated. So heated the other passenger, Michael Canoy of Beaverton, called Forest Grove police for help.

Officer Ernesto Villaraldo, who responded to the incident, didn't file a police report or take the driver's name. But his report to Washington County emergency dispatchers provides a sketch of what happened that night.

According to the dispatch report, at 10:55 p.m. on June 7, Canoy flagged down Villaraldo at a bus stop at the west end of Line 57, on the corner of 19th Avenue and B Street in Forest Grove.

A brief two-page synopsis of the dispatch conversation reports the bus driver told Villaraldo that Ruiz got on the bus and gave her some expired tickets. The bus driver then told Villaraldo she was running late and wanted the mother and her four children off the bus.

Villaraldo reported that Ruiz and her children were all crying. Ruiz told Villaraldo she had assured the driver she was going to pay, but the driver wouldn't listen, repeating commands that she get off the bus. At one point, Ruiz told Villaraldo she told the driver to "shut up."

Villaraldo told the driver that Ruiz planned to pay. But according to Villaraldo's report, the driver wasn't swayed.

"She (the driver) wanted them off the bus because she was already four minutes late and did not want people crying on the bus," Villaraldo reported.

Ruiz and her children left the bus, and Villaraldo drove them to their home in Cornelius. They had been visiting family in Forest Grove that day.

On thin ice

Canoy, the only other rider on the bus that night, said Ruiz was rude and belligerent towards the driver, calling her names. He initially called 911, at the driver's request, but hung up when he saw Villaraldo and flagged him down.

Canoy said he told Ruiz she shouldn't speak to the driver like that.

In an interview with the Forest Grove News-Times, Canoy said he sympathized with the driver's need to keep her route on schedule.

"It's just not nice," he said of how Ruiz was treating the driver. "I felt sorry for (the driver)."

Canoy said Ruiz ignored the driver when she was told her tickets had expired and went to the back of the bus. Canoy was sitting in the front of the bus near the driver, who never got up from her seat. Canoy said he could tell Ruiz was upset, but he felt the driver acted appropriately.

"She didn't make any adverse comments," Canoy said of the driver.

Ruiz, however, told the News-Times that the driver started yelling at her and her children that it wasn't "a free bus" and she had to pay or get off. Ruiz said she was trying to get the money for the fare out of her purse, but the driver wouldn't listen. Canoy was also yelling at her, Ruiz said.

During the interaction, her children began crying. Ruiz said she didn't know the tickets were invalid when she boarded.

Ruiz's 13-year-old daughter, Samantha Ruiz, said the driver was indifferent to how upset they were.

"She saw us crying, and she didn't care," Samantha said.

TriMet spokeswoman Mary Fetsch said the incident is under investigation and it could be complete by the end of the week. Until then, she can't release the name of the driver. For now, the driver is on paid administrative leave.

"Whenever we do an investigation, we typically put them on administrative leave," Fetsch said.

But TriMet made it clear last year that real consequences could come from incidents like these.

Last year, Hendren was reinstated after a 10-day suspension, but Fetsch told the Portland Tribune at the time that Hendren was on thin ice.

"She has been given one last chance to meet our customer service standards," Fetsch said in November.