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Alleged Brawl Over Bus Fares Sparks $1.35 Million Lawsuit

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A Richmond man’s estate is suing the GRTC Transit System for $1.35 million, charging that a bus driver hit him in the face and threw him into a bench after an argument about the bus fare.

The lawsuit was filed Jan. 20. An initial suit was filed June 9, five days after Ronald Eric Duckenfield died at age 53. (Duckenfield’s death was unrelated to the alleged assault on the bus, his lawyer says.)

Duckenfield was riding a GRTC bus heading toward Church Hill on Jan. 22, 2010, the lawsuit alleges. He attempted to stay on the bus after it had completed a scheduled round, according to the suit, when bus driver, James Russell Williams, demanded that Duckenfield pay another fare.

“They began arguing about the fare when Williams struck Duckenfield in the face and forcibly threw him out of the bus directly into a metal bench,” the suit alleges. As a result, the suit says, Duckenfield was “severely injured” and incurred “substantial medical expenses and the loss of income and earning capacity.”

Benjamin M. Andrews, the attorney for Duckenfield’s estate, declines to provide further details.

A police report confirms an altercation on a bus that afternoon in the 1300 block of North 22nd Street. Both men involved were advised to get warrants for misdemeanor simple assault if they wanted to press charges, police spokesman James Mercante says. Neither man appeared to have done so.

The lawsuit also charges that GRTC “was aware or should have been aware of Defendant Williams’s aggressive and violent tendencies before hiring him.”

GRTC cannot comment on pending litigation or personnel issues, says Joan M. Straszewski, the bus company’s public relations manager. She also couldn’t confirm whether Williams was employed by GRTC. But all buses have on-board cameras, she says.

Court records show that Duckenfield had been convicted of several minor offenses in the last five years, including shoplifting, petit larceny and obtaining drugs by fraud.

The suit asks for $1 million in compensatory damages and $350,000 in punitive damages from GRTC. The fare for local bus routes is $1.50.

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