Monday, June 17, 2013

TTC operators face 500 assaults, threats a year

TORONTO - Assaults on TTC workers have dropped by more than 15% annually since 2009 but operators still face around 500 assaults and threats each year, the TTC’s court advocate says.

Stuart Budgell said the number of incidents have dropped from 600 a year to around 500 since he began working with assault victims four years ago.

He spoke with the Toronto Sun after news broke Monday of two men jailed for separate assaults on TTC operators.

In one case, Varatharajan Ponnampalam, 46, was sentenced to 120 days after pleading guilty to assault on a female TTC driver last year. The woman was hit four times with an umbrella by a man “acting in a disorderly manner” on the 102 Markham bus on June 8.

Before the attack, she asked him to “settle down.” After he refused, she asked him to leave the bus.

He struck the driver, leaving her with “some severe bruising on her hand,” said Budgell.

Ponnampalam entered his guilty plea five days later. He was also handed a year probation, with conditions forbidding him from riding on the victim’s bus.

In the second case, Anthony Savo-Sadaro, 43, was handed 25 days in jail and two years probation after pleading guilty June 10 to assault.

He grabbed a male bus driver’s arm on April 18 and “demanded to be driven to a nearby liquor store” while riding the 123 Shorncliffe bus.

“They’re fine, they’re back at work,” Budgell said of the two workers.

Budgell’s job is to provide support for victims through counselling and working with the Crown for sentences that “reflect the severity” of the assaults on drivers.

“We don’t really get to ban people from the TTC,” Budgell said. “Many of the judges feel that people need to use our services.”

Over half of all incidents involve spitting. Most assaults revolve around fare evasion, according to Budgell. A number of attackers are “intoxicated people.”

“They lash out at our operators,” he said.

While some workers dust themselves off, others never return to the wheel, Budgell said.

He recalled a 26-year-old female driver who was punched for “no reason” after only three weeks on the job. She suffered a broken eye socket and now works in another capacity at the TTC.

“This woman has never driven a bus again,” Budgell said. “She’s terrified of driving.”
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