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Former GRTC bus driver says ‘life changed forever’ after bus attack

Posted at 11:18 PM, May 13, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-13 23:21:28-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Just over one year ago, Sherri Braxton, a former driver for GRTC, experienced what she called the most terrifying experience of her life.

It was the night of April 14th, 2015.

Braxton was behind the wheel of a GRTC bus and headed to the GRTC garage after making her last stop.

That’s when Braxton’s life would change forever.

There were still passengers on the bus and they wanted to know why the bus was headed in a different direction. Braxton got into a heated argument with one of the passengers.

"I didn't know him. That was not my regular route. He wasn't anybody I had ever seen,” said Braxton.

CBS 6 obtained surveillance video of what would become a very violent encounter.

Braxton pulled the bus over at Bellevue Ave & Chevy Chase St. She told the men that they could either get off, or continue riding to the garage.

But her conversation with one of the men, Maurice Mason, turned into a confrontation.

"He continued to argue, cursing. Told me I was nasty,” said Braxton.

Braxton told Mason to get off her bus, but Mason responded that he wasn't going anywhere, and she would have to make him get out.

Braxton tried to close the doors, but Mason forced them back open.

Sherri Braxton and Maurice Mason

Sherri Braxton and Maurice Mason

He then insulted Braxton with a vulgar word.

At that point, she got out of her seat.

"Get up, do something. Get up, get up, do something. This is in my mind,” said Braxton.

The two exchange heated words.

Braxton pressed a panic button, which is supposed to alert a GRTC supervisor that there's a problem.

That’s when Mason reached into his pocket.

"Honestly, I didn't know what it was. I didn't know if he was going to punch me. I didn't know if he had a gun,” said Braxton.

Braxton quickly grabbed her purse, which contains a stun gun. Feeling threatened, she pointed the weapon at Mason and shot him with it.

"I hadn't charged it or anything. And it came on. And he was going at me. I saw his body move. As soon as he did. I went again,” said Braxton.

Sherri Braxton and Maurice Mason

Sherri Braxton and Maurice Mason

Mason then slashed Braxton in the arm with a hunting knife, before jumping off the bus, and spitting at Braxton.

"I’m seeing all of this blood. My flesh was open all the way to the bone. Just wide open,” said Braxton.

On the surveillance video, Mason appeared to kick the now closed, bus doors twice before walking away.

In the video, you can see and hear Braxton press the panic button multiple times, but she said no supervisor ever answered.

“I am so blessed Sandra to be alive because had I died....nobody could tell this story,” Braxton explained.

Maurice Mason was arrested the next day, and later convicted of malicious wounding.

While violent attacks on city buses are rare, CBS 6 found that over the past three years, there have been six reports of bus drivers being punched and spat on. One even had a knife held to their throat.

Crime scene

"You need to constantly be on alert,” said Carrie Rose Pace, GRTC Communications Director.

CBS 6 sat down with Rose Pace to discuss how bus drivers are trained to deal with unruly and potentially dangerous passengers.

"They're taught very specific things like you stay in your seat. You don't turn your body toward the person who's agitated,” Rose Pace said. “You want to keep your body calm and composed. And you want to continue to interact with that passenger in as normal of a capacity as possible.”

GRTC also has multiple security cameras on every bus.

When asked, would she say that bus drivers are safe on their routes? Rose Pace said yes. “I would say that they are safe on their routes. Why? We think that they...the incident rate itself shows that we operate safely.”

Maurice Mason

Maurice Mason

In 2011, GRTC hired off-duty police officers as transportation supervisor employees to monitor passengers on city buses. But it ended. The reason? Money.

"As of right now, GRTC does not have funding available for there to be a start-up of a Transit police force or a sustainability of a police force,” said Rose Pace.

CBS 6 also wanted to know about bus drivers carrying weapons, like Sherri Braxton's stun gun?

That's actually against the rules agreed to by both GRTC and the union.

At this point, Rose Pace said there has not been a request to change the policy to allow bus drivers more protection on the buses.

GRTC said that Sherri Braxton pressed the lower priority alert buttons multiple times, which can take dispatchers several minutes to respond.

They said it wasn’t until after she was slashed, that she pushed the Emergency call button.

After the attack, Braxton was given 12 weeks paid leave and returned to work. GRTC sought to terminate her for violating the weapons policy.

Braxton said she was reinstated after the union got involved, but twice had her worker's compensation claim denied by the state.

Last month, Braxton resigned from the company vowing to never drive a bus again.

"The fear.....I'm still trying to shake it,” said Braxton.

Braxton's attacker Maurice Mason is currently serving a two year sentence at the Richmond City Jail.

Despite the terrifying ordeal, when asked if she could forgive Mason, Braxton said she could.

But the scar he left behind, and the memory of that night, will haunt her forever.

CBS 6 and Braxton returned to the scene of the crime on Bellevue Ave & Chevy Chase St.

"I hope I never have to come down this road ever again, she said. “It changed my whole life.”