TAMPA, Fla. — Bus drivers from across the Tampa Bay Area are speaking out, pleading for more safety measures at the first HART board meeting since Thomas Dunn was stabbed to death.
"I gave 17 years of my life to this country," said driver Ganitos Martinez. "I lost a soldier which I was in charge of. And to come here, and see this happen. To a veteran. It's uncalled for."
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Several safety measures have been taken since Dunn's death, like increasing security at transit centers. Drivers argue that while this keeps passengers safe, it doesn't do anything for the drivers.
"I think we need help from all of you, help us to keep us alive," pleaded bus driver Sonia Andrango.
That plea to stay alive was echoed by hundreds of other HART bus drivers as they faced the board of directors Monday morning.
"It's not an isolated incident," said one driver. "It's an escalating incident."
"It just brings everything back," sighed another.
The line of drivers speaking during public comment stretched out the door at one point; each with a different story of assault.
Drivers say assaults have increased since Dunn was murdered.
"Couple of days and we're still having, we call them copycats. There are copycats out there," said one driver.
The drivers pleaded for more safety measures in wake of the attack, like safety enclosures, moving cameras and panic buttons.
Neighboring unions also spoke up during the meeting.
"I think they looked really silly and they have to be ashamed of themselves," said April Murphy, a representative for SEIU Florida Public Services Union.
Vera Johnson was one of the many drivers assaulted while driving.
It was late at night. She was driving down I-4, taking the bus back to the station at the end of her shift. Suddenly, she heard someone clearing their throat behind her.
"I turned on the light and turned around. Somebody was sitting there. I said, 'Sir, this bus is done,'" Johnson said.
She recalls the man telling her to take him home. And when she refused:
"He turned around and slapped me in my face."
Johnson shared that story in front of HART's board of directors, getting emotional throughout her testimony.
Johnson also happens to be a friend of Dunn's.
"He always brought a bag of pretzels that he put in his window and he always gave me a handful. He was a good guy," she said.
She's still reeling from the shock of her own assault - and now, her friend’s death.
"He was at the board last year to ask for more safety, and nothing had been done. He had to pay the biggest pice of all, and I hope they're going to listen," she said.
HART CEO Ben Limmer responded by saying he will move forward and set new safety standards.
The board will reconvene next month with recommendations and costs for safety measures and have created a committee to focus on the issue.
Though Thomas Dunn can no longer speak out, but his fellow drivers made sure his voice was still being heard on Monday.
One by one, drivers went up to the podium, and only said this to the board of directors:
"I am Thomas Dunn."