Armed robbers attack call centre buses - Operators weigh blacklisting some communities
A number of crime-plagued communities could be blacklisted by transport operators contracted to pick up and take home staff from several firms, including call centres, as a number of attacks on their routine late-night trips have left one driver disabled and another nursing a gunshot wound to the head.
Following the latest incident last Friday, a Corporate Area bus driver is counting his blessings after being robbed and shot in the head by gunmen during a drop-off for call centre staff in the east Kingston community of Dunkirk.
In the melee, a man believed to be among the group of armed robbers was also fatally shot and an employee of the call centre left nursing a gunshot wound to her leg.
Speaking with The Gleaner as he nursed his injuries on Monday, the driver said the mayhem began soon after a female passenger indicated that she had reached her stop.
“It was about 1:45 a.m. ... heading towards Deanery Road in Kingston, the female said, ‘This is where I am coming off,’ and I said to her, ‘Give me a second let me turn the vehicle’.”
He said that on reaching a section of the roadway, four men ran in front of the bus, demanding that he stop the vehicle.
“I saw an object in one of them hands. I stopped and started to reverse, and I saw them running down the bus. I saw another five or six men run out and started [to] open fire at the bus ... ,” he told The Gleaner.
He soon lost control of the vehicle with six staff members aboard. It then landed in a gully, but the hoodlums were undeterred.
“When the bus jump the gully, one of the men came to my window and pointed the gun at me and started to use some expletives. He then grabbed my pocket through the window, took a cell phone from me,. Is when he turned his head looking at somebody – I don’t know if it’s that time the other [crony] got shot – I jumped across to the passenger door and start crawl under the bus seat.”
Robert Reid, who owns TLS, the bus company to which the driver is employed, said the situation was worrisome.
“To put it into perspective, it could have happen to any one of our clientèle that we were carrying. We do work for all major corporate entities,” he said, adding that based on reports of tension in the area, a decision was taken not to turn off any main road.
“All of us are contractors. We take persons who live in the garrisons home. We are now examining whether or not we will be providing services to any of these communities ... . We have now started the discussion with the hope to reach a national consensus [on] whether or not we render our services to these areas,” Reid said.
He said that a similar incident had occurred minutes after 9 p.m. in Dallas Castle, St Andrew, on August 28, as a driver was dropping home workers from another call centre.
“A driver took nine pebbles from a shotgun into his leg, two of which remain in his leg. He is now permanently handicapped,” Reid said.
Yet another such incident had occurred on Salt Pond Road on the outskirts of Spanish Town, he said, when a cab with passengers was fired on.
He said based on these incidents, transport operators are now worried about the increasing risk to their lives and livelihoods.
“They (criminals) not just thinking about the money. They are thinking to take life, then taking the money,” said Reid. “We have started the discussion, [and] from the table where I sit – I am a member of the JUTA – we have already produced a list of a number of communities that we are now considering whether or not we will be providing our services to those areas.”
The man killed in Friday’s incident remained unidentified up to yesterday.
The Gleaner was unable to reach Kingston East divisional chief Superintendent Victor Hamilton, whose phone repeatedly rang without answer.