Jameson Auten has been CEO of the Lane Transit District since Nov. 7. However, he is already facing what is perhaps the biggest test of his short tenure.
On Saturday, Nov. 19, 69-year-old Travis Allen Sanders was assaulted on an EmX bus at the stop on 11th Avenue, east of Kincaid Street. He later died of his injuries. A suspect, Derek Jules Dinnell, 30, has been charged with second-degree murder and is lodged in the Lane County Jail.
Several Eugene officials have offered their condolences.
Eugene Mayor Lucy Vinis expressed her commitment to make the community safer.
“We do not tolerate acts of violence of any kind and will continue to work with our community partners to foster a community where we all feel safe and supported,” Vinis’s statement reads.
Auten stresses in an interview with Eugene Weekly the importance of supporting everyone through this event.
“My job right now is to support our employees, support the community and to work with other community entities to really zero in on what the root causes of these kinds of behaviors are,” Auten says.
Auten, 49, brings a wealth of experience to LTD. He came to Eugene from the Kansas City Area Transit Authority, where he was deputy CEO for a few years. He has a transit background that goes back to 2001.
Auten explains how LTD employees are dealing with the shock of this event.
“We’ve been spending time checking on each other,” he says. “The group has banded together. We have onsite counseling here now for people who just want to go talk and express themselves.”
Despite the assault, Auten says the buses are still safe to ride.
“I think that people should be no more concerned about riding LTD buses as they are with walking down the street,” he says. “We just need to be cognizant of our surroundings.”
He says that LTD is considering options to improve security. These include potentially having transit ambassadors at certain times and assessing how they do fare inspections on EmX routes.
Increased security is important to Bill Bradley, the executive board officer for ATU Local 757. This is the union that represents frontline workers in the LTD, including bus operators.
“When we had poor behavior on the bus, it wasn’t nipped in the bud,” Bradley says. “In some regards, it became a little lawless.”
Before COVID-19, fare inspectors rode the buses frequently in a randomized pattern. However, those employees were laid off because of the pandemic.
“I think we need to get back to having some randomized presence on key routes throughout the region,” Bradley says.
Bradley says he was shocked that this attack occurred.
“We have seen escalations and verbal attacks and our operators, spitting, and even assaults on operators, but I didn’t think we would see this level of violence,” Bradley says. “So, it was real shocking.”
Bradley explains that there has been a lack of enforcement of Ordinance 36, an LTD ordinance that dictates rules for riding the bus. There are several elements of the ordinance, ranging from special seats for the elderly to what constitutes disorderly conduct and harassment.
Like Auten, Bradley says LTD has helped the employees through this crisis.
“LTD did bring in crisis counselors for anybody to talk to,” Bradley says. “They’ve been very supportive of the operator that was operating the bus when this happened.”
With so many questions on how to prevent future assaults, Auten says LTD will do whatever it can to make the bus safe for both passengers and operators.
“We have some big questions to answer to address the root causes, so we can move forward, and LTD intends to be part of the solution,” he says.