SAUGUS (CBS) – The trouble started with a routine ride on the Route 426 bus from the Haymarket T Station. “I take the bus and the guy was really speeding,” explained Franco Contino, who rides the bus daily. During the trip to Saugus, he saw a woman nearly fall when the bus operator slammed on his brakes.
“When I got off the bus I tell him, I say, look you’re driving this bus like it is a car. You know, maybe I wasn’t that nice when I said it,” he said.
“The bus driver wasn’t sure what he meant by that and inquired and that’s when Mr. Contino engaged him almost in a staring contest,” Transit Police Department Deputy Chief Robert Lenehan said. By that time, the bus was along Lincoln Avenue in Saugus. When Contino didn’t move out the door, Lenehan says the driver started to put the bus in motion. “That’s when Mr. Contino came up out of the stairwell and began physically strangling the bus driver,” Lenehan said.
“I just basically lost it,” Contino told WBZ. When asked if he grabbed the driver’s neck, he said, “I did. I’m not going to lie. I mean I wasn’t really choking him but it was more to say, what are you doing?” He claims the driver spit in his direction, setting him off. But two witnesses dispute that.
One of the witnesses, a man on board, jumped up and pulled Contino away. “We ask people to see something and say something but he actually saw something but also did something,” Deputy Chief Lenehan said.
Lenehan worries what would’ve happened if the driver hadn’t been able to hit the brakes. “There’s heavy pedestrian traffic in that area, but it is also a busy intersection right there so between the bus potentially hitting other cars or other pedestrians who are in the area as well as the people who were on board,” he said.
When the attack happened last Thursday, the T was just a couple of days out from having launched a new campaign aimed at protecting staff. Contino is the 16th person charged with assaulting a T employee this year. “Don’t get me wrong they do have a tough job. They go through a lot,” Contino said. He maintains he was provoked, but is sorry for how he reacted. “I regret the way I handled it,” he said.
The bus driver was not injured. There is video from the bus, but investigators are not releasing it. Contino was arrested today, but made bond. He’s facing charges of Assault and Battery on a Public Official and Interfering with Public Transportation will be arraigned in Lynn District Court on Wednesday.