TAMPA — The bus driver greeted the young woman with a kiss on her cheek when she boarded Route 39 close to Busch Boulevard and Florida Avenue.
Instead of taking her seat, she stood close to driver Efrain Perez. Over the next three hours, their show of affection grew more and more heated, an investigation by the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit authority found.
Perez, 50, twice pulled his bus into the staging area at a transfer center on Waters Avenue to be alone with the woman. The second time, he hurried all the other passengers off the bus and turned on an "Out of Service" sign. The bus then pulled into a staging area where its lights were dimmed for 15 minutes.
Video footage from the bus taken June 25 showed that he and the woman engaged in "sexual activities," the HART investigation concluded. Perez was fired effective July 11 for indecent, lewd or vulgar conduct, and for providing the passenger unauthorized access to the staging area.
"You admitted to touching the woman and choosing to do things in the heat of the moment at the staging area," wrote David Kelsey, the HART manager of transit supervision, in a memo to Perez. "The Authority finds your actions as serious and unacceptable."
A bus driver for HART since 2008, Perez said he did nothing more than kiss and touch the woman during his breaks. He said he has not seen the video but questioned how it would show anything since the lights were switched off.
"It’s not right to fire me," he said. "Everybody makes mistakes."
HART launched an investigation after one of his passengers reported him to another bus driver and later filed a report with the See-Click-Fix program. She said the female looked like a minor and feared that "something bad was going on in the bus."
Investigators who reviewed the bus video wrote in a report that Perez kissed and fondled the woman even while out on his route. During the first stop at the transfer center, he pulled her pants down and fondled her, the HART report states.
She was still on the bus when Perez finally ended his shift around 11 p.m. and returned to a bus facility on 21st Avenue, the report states. He dropped her off at a maintenance turnstile before parking. The woman was 22, the investigation found.
Perez, who is married, wrote in an incident report that she was a close friend.
"I and the woman lost control," Perez wrote. "Sorry for my action. This kind of thing will never happen again."
HART records show that Perez, who was paid $22.90 per hour, has a spotty disciplinary record. He has been reprimanded 11 times and suspended five times for a variety of issues, including preventable accidents and absences.
Contact Christopher O’Donnell at [email protected] or (813) 226-3446. Follow @codonnell_Times.