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Man refused to wear mask on PSTA bus, punched driver

The 26-year-old was arrested Tuesday after the incident in late June.
A sign on the number nine PSTA bus says "Cover Ur Face B4 U Ride" as it is stopped in the 200 block of 5th Ave N, on Tuesday, May 5, 2020 in St. Petersburg. A 26-year-old man was arrested Tuesday after he allegedly refused to wear a mask and punched a bus driver.
A sign on the number nine PSTA bus says "Cover Ur Face B4 U Ride" as it is stopped in the 200 block of 5th Ave N, on Tuesday, May 5, 2020 in St. Petersburg. A 26-year-old man was arrested Tuesday after he allegedly refused to wear a mask and punched a bus driver. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Jul. 7

The Pinellas Park Police Department arrested a 26-year-old man Tuesday after he allegedly punched a Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority bus driver in late June after refusing to wear a mask on the bus, a police report says.

Robert Appleby of Clearwater got on the bus around 7:35 a.m. on June 29 near the intersection of 50th Avenue N and 34th Street N in St. Petersburg. The bus driver told Appleby he needed to wear a mask, and Appleby refused.

PSTA still requires all riders, regardless of vaccination status, to wear a mask on its buses in accordance with federal law, according to a statement Stephanie Rank, a PSTA spokesperson.

The bus driver drove a little under two miles from where Appleby got on the bus to the PSTA bus depot at 3801 70th Ave. N in Pinellas Park. There, the police report says, the driver stopped and walked back to ask Appleby again to wear a mask. The driver said the bus would not leave until he put one on, officers say. Appleby refused.

The bus driver walked back to the front of the bus and called PSTA headquarters and asked for a supervisor. At that point, officers say Appleby got up and punched the driver in his right eye. Appleby fled the scene after the incident, but the police report says he later admitted to his actions on a phone call with detectives before being arrested Tuesday afternoon. Appleby is charged with felony battery on a public transit employee.

The Pinellas Park Police Department posted a video of the incident on its Facebook page last week.

“It’s not my rule,” the bus driver can be heard saying in the video. “I’m vaccinated, too,” he said before being punched.

Rank said the bus driver sustained minor injuries from the incident. According to the police report, he received medical attention on the scene. The driver was not behind a safety barrier, Rank told the Tampa Bay Times.

“The safety of our bus drivers remains our number one priority and we are glad to know the person responsible was arrested,” Rank wrote in a statement.