17-year-old suspect arrested in Metro driver stabbing

police official speaks at podium in parking lot
LAPD press conference on the stabbing of a Metro bus driver, May 25, 2023. Photo credit Nataly Tavidian / KNX News

WOODLAND HILLS (CNS) - A 17-year-old boy was arrested Thursday in connection with the near-fatal stabbing of a Metro bus driver in Woodland Hills, and the driver remained in critical condition.

Due to the suspect's age, his name was not released.

He is suspected in an attack that occurred around 5:15 p.m. Wednesday near Topanga Canyon Boulevard and and Erwin Street. Police said the teen boarded the bus and got into an argument with the 61-year-old driver over fare evasion.

Both the driver and teen wound up getting off the bus and continued the argument, during which the teen pulled out a knife and repeatedly stabbed the driver, according to police.

Los Angeles Police Department Chief Michel Moore credited paramedics and the staff at Dignity Health Northridge Hospital Medical Center for their work on the driver, who remained in "extremely critical" condition Thursday.

"The nature of the injuries he sustained were definitely beyond life- threatening," Moore said. "In many other instances, he would not have survived the level of this attack."

It was unclear what led detectives to the suspect, although Moore credited assistance from the public. Moore said police conducted a sweeping manhunt throughout the San Fernando Valley throughout the night. Police also circulated photos of the suspect captured by a surveillance camera on the bus.

He said the arrest was made early Thursday afternoon, but he offered no specifics.

Earlier in the day Thursday, Metro Board of Directors Chairman Ara Najarian, a Glendale City Council member, announced that the agency was offering a $25,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the suspect in the stabbing. It was not immediately clear if anyone will be eligible for that reward now that the suspect has been captured.

"Words fail to capture the depth of our sorrow and our concern for our injured employee," Najarian said. "I know this board stands together, united in our prayers and hopes for the operator's swift and complete recovery. ... This heart-wrenching incident reminds us of the risks our front-line employees face each day as they strive to serve our community in the face of such adversity. It is crucial that we stand strong, resolute and unwavering in our commitment to one another."

Najarian noted that even after being stabbed and enduring "life-threatening" injuries, the driver managed to return to the bus after the attack and secure the vehicle to ensure passengers were safe.

Metro CEO Stephanie Wiggins said Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass and City Council members Paul Krekorian and Bob Blumenfield -- all Metro board members -- visited the hospital Wednesday night to comfort the driver's family.

"The driver is still not out of the (woods), and we need to keep him in our prayers," Bass said at the Metro board meeting.

She added, "We know that ridership is down on the trains and the buses and we certainly don't want public safety to be the reason. But we definitely need to redouble our efforts in that regard."

The attack was the latest violent encounter involving the Metro transit system, which has come under fire from some critics and elected officials over safety issues.

Earlier this week, county Supervisor and Metro board member Janice Hahn called for "a full accounting" of security protocols on the system following a recent attack on a woman on a Metro A (Blue) Line train in Long Beach by two suspects.

"We have multi-million-dollar law enforcement contracts, Metro security, and 300 Metro Ambassadors who have been hired to ride our buses and trains," Hahn said in a statement Monday. "But where were they when this woman was beaten up on the Blue Line last week? With this many layers of security, why didn't anyone come to this woman's aid? This is far from the first time there has been an attack on our trains in recent months. I will be asking for a full accounting of where our transit ambassadors, Metro security, and Long Beach Police officers assigned to Metro were at the time of this attack.

"Enough is enough," Hahn said. "Our trains need to be safe for our residents."

Long Beach police said the attack on the A Line train occurred shortly after 5:30 p.m. May 17. Although the victim told ABC7 one of her attackers used racial slurs, police said they had "no information to indicate this is a hate or bias motivated incident."

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Featured Image Photo Credit: Nataly Tavidian / KNX News