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A D.C. man has filed an $8 million lawsuit against Metro saying he suffered emotional and physical harm after being wounded when someone opened fire on a Metrobus in August.
According to the lawsuit filed in D.C. Superior Court, Earl Coates was a passenger on the W8 bus during the evening of Aug. 21, when the driver stopped to pick up a passenger on Elvans Road in southeast D.C. But no one got on the bus, which then suddenly lost power. Someone then fired a gun into the bus striking Coates twice, according to the suit. The alleged shooter then fled.
According to the suit, it’s believed that someone intentionally disabled the bus using an outside shut-off switch, designed for use by first responders in case of an emergency.
The suit alleges “negligent actions and inactions” because Metro officials knew the switches could be used to shut off a bus and because the driver did not attempt to restart the bus or aid passengers who were on board.
Metro officials declined to comment on the suit and shut-off switch Tuesday. “Due to pending litigation, we are unable to provide the information you’ve requested,” spokesman Richard Jordan said in an e-mail.
But Monday, during an event celebrating the debut of new buses on the 16th Street corridor, officials did respond to questions related to how the shut-off switch, which is a standard feature on buses in the United States and Canada, operates.
Metro officials said the switch is designed to kill the engine and battery power in the event of an electrical fire or other emergency that would require shutting down a bus. Firefighters can access the panel where the switch is located, but that easy access also has presented problems.
Metro officials said the panels have become a safety concern. It is unclear how many of the approximate 1,500 buses in Metro’s fleet are equipped with the switch. Metro officials said Monday they are considering putting locks on the panels to prevent unauthorized access to them.
Other agencies, including the New York and Chicago transit agencies have had similar problems and have fitted theirs with locks.
Once a bus has been disabled, an operator has to get out of the vehicle to turn the switch back on to restart the engine, they said.
Following the Aug. 21 incident, Metro temporarily detoured the W8 around the area where the shooting occurred, drawing complaints from D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser and others. Metro officials relented a day later and a police cruiser was temporarily stationed along the route to reassure riders.
Bijon Brown, 20, was arrested in September in connection with the shooting.