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Slain HART driver chose busy route because he 'loved people,' friend says

Thomas Dunn chose the green buses of the Metro Rapid line because it carries a lot of people and he enjoyed serving them, a friend says. A memorial stands on the spot alongside Nebraska Avenue where Dunn managed to pull his bus to safety May 18 after a passenger slit his throat. [MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times]
Published May 24

TAMPA — Tom Dunn chose the bus route he died on.

As a driver for the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority, Dunn asked to drive Route 400, known as the MetroRapid, connecting the University area and downtown Tampa.

"He loved people, and that's one of our heaviest routes with the most people," said Tisha Jones, a friend and fellow bus driver.

One of those riders, police say, killed Dunn on Saturday, slicing the throat of the 46-year-old Ruskin father as Dunn steered the bus south on Nebraska Avenue. Justin Ryan McGriff, 35, said "God bless you" to Dunn, twice, before cutting his jugular and carotid arteries on May 18, an arrest report says. McGriff then jumped off the bus as Dunn, in his final moments, brought it to a stop.

The crime claimed a man who drove buses to help provide for his family and who never hesitated to speak up for fellow drivers, according to friends and family.

"He was very thoughtful about the passengers he carried, he was thoughtful about the employees he worked with and he loved his children," Jones said. "That's all he would talk about, his children."

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Assailant in bus attack told driver, 'God bless you,' before slitting his throat, report says

Tom Dunn was born in Tachikawa, Japan, where his father was stationed with the U.S. Air Force. Mike Dunn was later transferred to MacDill Air Force Base, and Tom Dunn graduated from Robinson High School in Tampa.

After high school, Tom Dunn spent a few years in the Air Force. He was stationed in Mildenhall, England, during Operation Desert Storm, working on the electronic systems of F-111 fighter bombers, his father said.

After the Air Force, Dunn founded his own company based on a patented generator design, according to his father. He also worked as an over-the-road truck driver and a stint as a warehouse worker at the Amazon Fulfillment Center in Ruskin.

Dunn married in 2007. His wife Jaime had three daughters of her own at the time and the couple had three children together — two girls and a boy. Court records show the Dunns separated in September and filed for divorce the following month. The case was pending when he was killed.

Jaime Dunn declined through her father-in-law to comment.

After spending years as an over-the-road trucker, Tom Dunn applied to drive a HART bus driver because he was tired of spending days away from his family, his father said. He was hired in March 2016 and became an active member of the driver's union, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1593.

"He would always tell me, 'As long as we're doing the right thing, I'm with the union,' said union president Curtis Howard. "If there was a safety issue or something that would help other people, he was always there."

Dunn was among local union members who traveled to Sarasota to protest a plan to privatize the Sarasota County bus system.

"He volunteered to go down to protect their jobs because that could have easily happened to us," Jones said.

In December, Dunn stepped up to the lectern at a HART board meeting and complained about driver safety. He described an incident in which a woman assaulted him.

"It seems to me admin is taking care of admin and not taking care of the folks at the wheel that actually make this company work," he told board members.

Five months later, McGriff walked up to Dunn with a knife concealed in his hand and, without any evident provocation, slit his throat, police said. He's been charged with first degree murder.

Mike Dunn said he was mad when he heard about what happened to his son.

"Mad because he knew something like that was going to happen and they did nothing, and it happened," he said. "They've got a lot of egg on their face. I don't know what the solution is but that route he had, I think, was particularly dangerous, and they should have a guard on that bus."

Colin Mulloy, director of safety and security, said the agency is evaluating all options to improve safety for drivers and passengers following Dunn's death.

"There is nothing that is not on the table," Mulloy said. "Anything that helps, HART is going to be supportive of and we're going to want to advocate."

For now, the agency is focused on conducting a bus driver safety survey, an overall safety assessment of the organization and hosting a statewide symposium. There are no current plans to enact the suggestion by Dunn's father for guards to ride popular routes such as the MetroRapid. But Mulloy said all suggestions will be considered.

"Our heart goes out to the father," Mulloy said. "I think his son was a great man."

Dunn said he believes the discipline and training his son learned in the military kicked in as he took his final breaths.

"It doesn't surprise me a bit that he managed to get the bus over and get it stopped," he said. "He knows he's hurt real bad and still has the forethought to do that. It's something."

Times staff writer Caitlin Johnston contributed to this report. Contact Tony Marrero at tmarrero@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.

Helping driver's family

The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority has created a support fund for the family of slain driver Thomas Dunn and a scholarship fund for his children.

Donations to the family fund can be made at any Tampa Bay Federal Credit Union branch or mailed to: Tampa Bay Federal Credit Union, P.O. Box 7492, Tampa, FL 33602. Donations should include the name of fund, the Thomas Dunn Memorial Fund, and memorial identification no. 563719

The Thomas Dunn Memorial Scholarship through the Hillsborough Education Foundation will fund scholarships for his children. Click here for information.

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