Petition Calls For FRTA Bus Driver To Face Hate Crime

GREENFIELD, Mass. (WBZ NewsRadio) — A bus driver in central Massachusetts is being held without bail, after he told police he drove into a wall in an attempt "to get" a black man and two children who had exited his bus, because he believed they had a gun.

According to Greenfield Police Department, on Thursday June 4th at around 3:30 p.m., officers responded to the area of Main Street near Federal Street, after a Franklin Regional Transit Authority bus had gone off the roadway and crashed into a stone wall and a building.

A Greenfield firefighter who was nearby arrived first on scene. He reported witnessing the driver of the crashed FRTA bus "chase after and grab" a man who had been walking down Main Street with two juveniles.

The firefighter was able to intervene and grab the bus driver, who was reportedly yelling that the man he was after "had a gun."

When officers arrived on scene, they spoke with the bus driver, 38-year-old Steven Connell, and the man he attacked, later identified as Erik Rudder.

Police report that Rudder and the two children had been passengers on the FRTA bus that Connell was driving.

They had exited the bus on Main Street near Hope Street, and began walking west down Main Street when, according to witnesses, "the bus suddenly accelerated and veered off the right side of the road, going over the sidewalk and crashing where it was now located."

Connell then ran after Rudder, grabbed him, and started attacking him before the firefighter pulled him off.

According to police, Connell said one of the younger males was "making hand gestures about having a gun on the bus, leading him to believe they had a firearm, so he attacked them."

Upon asking, Connell confirmed "he crashed the bus in an attempt to get them, the black male and two juveniles." Another person who was seated on the sidewalk nearby was also almost struck by the bus when Connell drove it off the roadway.

Police confirmed Rudder was not in possession of a firearm.

There were no physical injuries reported by any of the victims. Connell was brought to the hospital for an evaluation, where he also ended up kicking a hospital employee.

After the incident, a petition was started calling for Connell to be "charged with a hate crime and relieved from community positions." Within two days, the petition had garnered hundreds of signatures.

A GoFundMe was also started for Rudder and the two juvenile victims. According to a statement posted to the GoFundMe page, Rudder said he and his sons are "physically ok, just shaken up a lot." He also commended Greenfield Police Department and Fire Department and other first responders.

"[They] were NOT the ones at fault," said Rudder. "They performed admirably and were extremely helpful in getting the situation under control. Extra kudos to the fire chief... and his team for getting to the scene expediently and being able to witness this guy attempt to physically confront me."

In a statement, State Senator Jo Comerford called the incident "horrifying," and "an outgrowth of the insidious, systemic and dangerous racism that has been present in our communities for generations."

Connell was arrested and charged with a Civil Rights Violation, Assault and Battery, Assault on Ambulance Personnel, three counts of Assault with Intent to Murder While Armed, and four counts of Assault with a Dangerous Weapon, Negligent Operation of a Motor Vehicle, and a Marked Lanes violation.

He was arraigned in Greenfield District Court on Friday, June 5th and he was ordered held without bail after a Dangerousness Hearing.

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(Photo: Getty Images)

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