FOREST GROVE, Ore. (AP) — Portland’s regional mass transit agency is investigating whether a bus driver inappropriately denied service to a woman — who tried to pay with expired tickets — and to her four children because they were crying. Passengers said Wednesday that the driver is the same one who made headlines last year when she berated a mother and her wailing toddler into getting off the bus.
Police in the Portland suburb of Forest Grove said Maria Ruiz, 34, and her children were ordered off the bus June 7 following a dispute about a fare. The only other passenger, Michael Canoy, 51, of Beaverton, called 911 before flagging down police.
Officer Ernesto Villaraldo intervened in the argument and told the driver that Ruiz would pay.
“She (the driver) told me she wanted them off the bus because she was already four minutes late and did not want people crying on the bus,” Villaraldo said in a report to emergency dispatchers.
Ruiz and her children left the bus, and the officer drove them to their Cornelius home.
TriMet declined to release the driver’s name until its investigation is complete sometime next week.
The Oregonian identified the driver in last year’s incident as Claudeen Hendren. A reporter from the Forest Grove News-Times showed a photo of Claudeen Hendren to Canoy, Ruiz and Ruiz’s 13-year-old daughter. All identified her as the driver on June 7.
Canoy, in a telephone interview with The Associated Press, confirmed the News-Times’ account.
Hendren could not be reached by phone for comment Wednesday.
The driver generated attention last fall when she stopped her bus and refused to continue because a woman could not quiet her crying toddler. The mother and child got off the bus and other passengers followed in protest.
The agency suspended Hendren for 10 days and reminded all its drivers that crying and noise from youngsters isn’t a violation.
An investigation by The Oregonian newspaper last fall found that TriMet had received more than 100 complaints against Hendren since 2009, with some passengers saying she forbade them from chatting or using a cellphone.
The latest incident began when Ruiz and her four children got on the bus at about 11 p.m. with expired tickets.
Canoy said Ruiz took her children to the back of the bus. When the driver reminded Ruiz of the need for payment, the woman reacted angrily, and her kids started screaming and crying, Canoy said.
When she began walking to the back of the bus, Ruiz told The Oregonian, she didn’t realize the tickets had expired because her 13-year-old daughter, Samantha, had been carrying them and handed them to the bus driver.
The mother, who speaks Spanish and uses Samantha as her interpreter, said her daughter got nervous and couldn’t explain in English that they had the money to pay.
“It doesn’t matter that she yelled at me, but not at my children,” the woman said. “That was very insulting.”
Ruiz told the newspaper she told the driver to “shut up” because she was getting agitated. She said the driver ordered her off the bus.
“My children began to cry,” Ruiz said.
Canoy said the situation escalated and he yelled at Ruiz to stop being rude to the driver. He later called 911 but hung up when he spotted police.
He left the bus to get the officers and did not hear the conversation involving Officer Villaraldo, the driver and Ruiz.
“She acted appropriately, she never left her seat, she did not raise (her) voice,” Canoy said of the driver. “After it got so chaotic in the back of the bus, she made the choice that they needed to leave the bus, and I couldn’t agree more with her decision.”
TriMet spokeswoman Mary Fetsch said there is no video of the incident and investigators planned to interview Ruiz, Canoy, the driver and the officer.
“Our sense is this should have been handled better, but we’re still learning about it,” she said.