TAMPA — Hillsborough bus driver Schnaider Prophete calls the rider who saved his life his guardian angel.
But he also told the transit agency’s board of directors Monday that he could’ve protected himself if he and other drivers were allowed to carry guns on board while working.
Prophete is the second Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority bus driver attacked this year.
Thomas Dunn was killed in May when a rider slit his throat. Then last month, a rider attacked Prophete with mace and a box cutter following a fare dispute. Prophete was hospitalized and required surgery for his wounds.
The attacks prompted the agency to install safety shields around drivers, bring in counselors and host a safety summit.
But Prophete said he would feel safer if he were allowed to carry a gun.
“The shields that we have on the bus, it’s better than nothing,” he told the board. “We have to allow the driver to legally — those who are qualified with licenses — to protect themselves and protect the community.”
Prophete, an Army veteran, said his job as a bus driver is more dangerous than the time he served in the military.
"When I was in the Army, whenever I go out on a mission, I was properly equipped for that mission,' he said. “We are not.”
Abiona Adadevoh, who called Prophete family, also addressed the board and thanked John Phelps, the rider who intervened and got Prophete’s attacker off the bus.
“Were it not for (Phelps) and his willingness to sacrifice his life, we would not be here for my family, Mr. Prophete,” Adadevoh said. “We would be at his funeral for a farebox that malfunctioned and this man snapped.”
Adadevoh and Prophete both urged the board “to do the right thing” and look out for the safety of their drivers.
Interim CEO Carolyn House Stewart told the board that as of Wednesday, 140 safety shields had been installed, which covers the number of buses required to start each day. An additional 40 shields are expected to be installed in the following weeks.
The safety shields for 180 buses and eight vans cost the agency more than $1 million. The first shield was installed Oct. 11. The next shipment of shields was scheduled to be delivered this week.
Transit agency representatives traveled to Tallahassee last month to lobby elected officials for harsher penalties against those who assault a transit worker. Currently, attacking a bus driver is a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail. The agency wants the crime to be designated a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison.
In other action Monday, the transit agency board voted to increase Stewart’s salary to $195,000 while she serves as interim CEO. Stewart took on the role Nov. 4 after CEO Ben Limmer was placed on paid while the agency investigates whistleblower allegations against him related to purchasing.