15 Feb

Winnipeg bus driver was stabbed to death after waking sleeping passenger

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Bus driver Irvine Fraser pulled up to the last stop of his shift on Tuesday, went to wake a sleeper at the back — and then everything exploded, say police and the head of the Winnipeg Transit union.

Fraser, who went by his middle name, Jubal, was attacked and killed by the lone passenger just before 2 a.m.

“A scuffle ensued, a physical altercation, and it ended up outside the bus,” said John Callahan, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union in Winnipeg.

Fraser, 58, was stabbed just outside his vehicle and died. Blood-stained snow was visible Tuesday as students walked past the scene, bordered by police tape and busy with homicide investigators.

It’s not yet clear why everything erupted as it did. Police are reviewing video footage from the bus’s surveillance cameras.

Passengers fall asleep quite often and generally, they wake up and go on their way, Callahan said.

“But who knows, they could wake up swinging. You just don’t know,” he said.

Fraser’s death marks the first time a Winnipeg bus driver has been killed in an on-the-job assault, said Callahan.

A 22-year-old man was arrested not far from the scene, at a bend on the frozen Red River that runs adjacent to the campus. Police said the man is known to them and information about the charges he faces will be released on Wednesday.

Callahan has spoken to Fraser’s wife, who is distraught and still recovering from the recent death of a daughter. She and Fraser were raising their granddaughter together and Fraser was considering retiring as early as next year, Callahan said.

A GoFundMe page has been set up by Winnipeg Transit colleagues to help Fraser’s widow and family.

Callahan, who said he doesn’t want Fraser to have died in vain, hopes the incident leads to changes to make the job safer for drivers.

That starts with examining where some of the routes end, he said. Maybe they all need to wind up downtown, in a more central location where there is better security and an on-street inspector, Callahan said. That allows an extra person to be there to help wake a sleeper.

The U of M campus is far from downtown, dark and quiet at the hour Fraser pulled in at the end of his shift.

Besides cameras, city buses are equipped with emergency buttons that connect drivers to a 911 operator. Fraser didn’t have a chance to push the button when he was attacked, said Callahan.

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman said in a news conference Tuesday that he would reach out to Callahan to talk about safety improvements. Callahan said he is looking forward to that.

Protective shields were installed on some buses as an experiment a few years ago, after a surge in violent incidents against drivers, but they were dropped after the union surveyed drivers, who said they didn’t like the design and found them cumbersome.

They also felt trapped because there was no alternative exit, such as on the left side of the driver.

Callahan believes what’s needed is an entire redesign of transit buses — an idea that’s being studied in the United States — with a full enclosure for drivers and an emergency door on the left.

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