WINNIPEG — The Winnipeg transit community is in mourning after a fellow bus driver was killed on duty at the University of Manitoba early Tuesday morning.
Irvine Fraser, 58, was stabbed by a lone passenger while he was stopped at the end of his route on Dafoe Road West and Gillson Street.
“He was always happy and always in a good mood. He was not the type of guy who would care about bus fare if they needed a ride,” a co-worker, Nelson Giesbrecht, said.
“My fellow brother was murdered for doing his job last night,” he said.
Fraser was found seriously injured and transported to hospital in critical condition. He later died of his injuries. It is now a homicide investigation, police said.
Witnesses helped direct police to a suspect who had fled to the nearby frozen Red River near campus. A 22-year-old man is in custody in connection to the homicide. There have been no charges yet.
An officer with the canine unit went back to the scene to collect evidence. The officer then fell through the ice but was pulled to shore and there weren’t any injuries.
“I think the quick-thinking action of our members who were on the scene prevented this from becoming an even worse tragedy,” Danny Smyth of Winnipeg police said at a media conference Tuesday.
Giesbrecht said he’s been working as a bus driver for Winnipeg Transit for 19 years and safety is only getting worse.
“I’ve been to union meetings… and everybody has spoken about driver safety, and we get letters of understanding with the city. I don’t see where that’s gotten us because now a guy’s dead.”
“My opinion is now I’m to the point of ‘put me in a cage’. I don’t want to see money. If you have a question call 3-11. Let me drive my bus,” he said.
Smyth said the debate on bus driver safety is surely going to be in the spotlight. “But before we go there we need to let investigators do their job to determine circumstances of this event.”
Dave Wardrop, chief of transportation and utilities with the City of Winnipeg spoke with media Tuesday morning. He said it’s a very difficult day for everyone at the city.
“This is a very difficult for transit employees and City of Winnipeg employees,” Wardrop said. “Counselling services will be made available for our employees.”
This is the first time a city bus driver has been killed on the job as a result of an altercation, Wardrop said.
In terms of transit safety, Wardrop said the city may have to look into how to keep bus drivers more safe.
“We looked into using shields a couple of years ago… and it may be time to revisit that,” he said.
The city provides assault prevention training to drivers and there are usually around five security cameras on buses, Wardrop said.
The city will be working with the transit union about this incident, he added.
University of Manitoba responds
The president of the University of Manitoba, David Barnard, sent out an email to students Tuesday morning, saying he wishes to convey his deepest sympathy to Fraser’s family.
“I also extend condolences to the deceased’s colleagues at Winnipeg Transit, and thank them for the invaluable service they provide to our community every day. Our wishes are for their continued safety,” he wrote.
“Tragic events like this morning’s reaffirm our collective commitment to building a stronger, safer shared community.”
A spokesperson for the University of Manitoba, John Danakas, said it doesn’t appear the suspect had any association to the school.
“Transit drivers provide such an invaluable service for the university day in and day out and we all need to work together to ensure they all have their safety guaranteed for them,” he said.
Students want more security
Some students at the University were at school hours after the incident, and said it’s a scary situation on campus now.
“When I come to school to study, later at night when it’s dark, that definitely puts fear in me,” student Rachel Unruh said.
The campus is a busy spot at all hours of the day said Unruh. She wants more security so non-U of M students can’t access certain hot spots.
“I definitely think at night there should be more security because I know most of the building are open 24 hours with no one watching.”
The school said there are ongoing efforts to make sure students are safe at the University.