OAKLAND (KPIX 5) – In the wake of the three homicides on the transit system currently being investigated, BART officials on Tuesday were scrambling to reassure passengers the system is safe.
BART Board President Robert Raburn insisted the three deadly incidents in the space of a single week were an anomaly, but both workers and riders have serious concerns.
Eighteen-year-old Nia Wilson was stabbed in the neck and died on the platform at the MacArthur BART station Sunday night. Her sister, Letifah Wilson, was also injured in the attack.
When asked if he found it at all concerning that it took 24 hours to find the
suspect when he might have been riding BART during that time, Raburn replied, “Well, we were definitely on the lookout. I know the chief wanted to make absolute certain that he had an iron-clad case.”
Police distributed a photo of Cowell during the manhunt, taken when he was cited for riding without a ticket on July 18th.
“I’m very proud that everybody had the message: ‘Go after this guy. Capture this suspect,’” said Rayburn.
But even before the stabbing, the president of the BART workers union said there are reports Cowell had been harassing one of their agents.
“We have a lot of frightened station agents. We have a lot of frightened passengers,” said President of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 Gena Alexander.
BART does have a new policy allowing them to prohibit riders. It went into effect permanently this year, but Cowell wasn’t on the list.
“These stay away orders, they aren’t working,” complained Alexander. “It’s not protecting us and now it’s not protecting the passengers.”
Three people have died after violent attacks on BART within the past week.
Police are looking for a suspect captured in surveillance images taken at the Bay Fair BART station on Saturday. Authorities said the assault suspect was caught on video punching the victim who was found by police and later died from head injuries.
Last Wednesday at the Pleasant Hill station. Police say a suspect fought with a 51-year-old man, causing cuts that led to a deadly infection.
BART police admit they are stretched thin. They say they are 25 officers below normal staffing. They patrol 110 miles of rail line and 42 stations in a system that is transporting over 2 million passengers a week.
BART has working cameras in every car and officers have been increasing patrols in an attempt to make the system safer.
“We try to protect our workers and our passengers,” said Rayburn. “At the end of the day, we want to go home to our families also.”
BART Union President Alexander says she would like to see a passenger alliance helping them push for more safety measures in the future.