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Greyhound tightens security in Canada after knife attacks

The beheading of a passenger in July has led to a public outcry.

December 14, 2008|Kim Murphy | Murphy is a Times staff writer.

WINNIPEG, CANADA — Sleep hasn't come easy to freelance music agent Joseph Egan since that Halloween bus ride on the lonely rural highways of western Canada.

Three months after a sleeping passenger had been beheaded by his seatmate on the same prairies west of Winnipeg, Egan was confronted by a drunken woman behind him. He rose and started walking toward the driver.

"I got three steps, and she goes, 'You go to the driver, I'm going to cut your . . . head off,' " he recalled. "I started wondering: copycat? That's the first thing that went through my mind. It's just the newest thing, beheading somebody on a bus. It's disturbing that somebody's mind would even go there."

He managed to alert the driver, and no one was hurt. But he's haunted by the experience. "I've only now started to resume normal sleep patterns."

A horrifying string of stabbings and threats on intercity buses has prompted Greyhound Lines Inc. to roll out stepped-up security screening at terminals across Canada.

The measures, even stricter than most of those the company adopted in the United States after the Sept. 11 attacks, include a ban on most hand-held luggage, hand searches of any items carried on board and magnetic screening of all passengers at the terminals.

The heightened passenger screening debuted this month at bus stations in Winnipeg, Edmonton and Calgary, and will be expanded Monday to include all major intercity bus terminals across Canada.

"These additional security measures follow a comprehensive two-year study we completed as well as a complete review of all our security measures that were in place in Canada," company spokeswoman Abby Wambaugh said. "We implemented those that we felt were most effective and most practical for the network system of transportation we have."

The new security measures follow months of demands from passengers, family members, drivers and others to prevent the potentially deadly mix of alcohol, weapons and remote roads that can leave drivers with little means of protecting their passengers from acts of random and sometimes shocking violence.

At least three people have been stabbed on intercity buses in Canada since last December, and a bus driver was attacked in Lloydminster, Alberta, in February 2007 by a group of young men who had thrown something in front of the bus to bring it to a halt.

The real outcry began in July, when Timothy McLean, a 22-year-old carnival worker, was attacked as he slept on a Greyhound bus about 45 miles west of Winnipeg.

As terrified passengers ran screaming from the bus, McLean was stabbed at least 40 times by his seatmate, who proceeded to cut off his head and parade it to the front of the bus before returning to mutilate and cannibalize the body.

The driver and passengers held the door shut to block the exit of the killer, identified by police as 41-year-old Vincent Weiguang Li, a former tire salesman at Wal-Mart who had recently lost his job.

"From all accounts, it was an entirely unprovoked attack," said McLean's mother, Carol de Delley. "My son was sleeping; he had his headphones on with his head up against the window. And this man just lost it, he stabbed him a couple of times, and then beheaded him, and it just gets more gruesome from there."

De Delley quit her job as a school bus driver after the attack because she couldn't stand to get on a bus.

"As far as these security measures now, they're grossly inadequate," she said. "They are baby steps. They're steps in the right direction, but when you stop to consider how many [passenger] pickup points there would be, the fact that they're doing screening at the major depots doesn't say a whole hell of a lot to me."

In the most recent attack, on Sept. 21, a man boarded a Greyhound bus bound for Winnipeg from Ontario and stabbed a 20-year-old passenger in the chest as he was sleeping, authorities said. It turned out that police had helped him get his ticket after he had been involved in a public disturbance.

The passenger, who survived, apparently did not know the alleged attacker, 28-year-old David Roberts, police said.

Jim Higgs, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents Greyhound's roughly 1,100 drivers in Canada, said requiring passengers to stow their carry-on luggage in the baggage hold will eliminate most of the alcohol and weapons that lead to driver assaults, even for those passengers who board at rural bus stops instead of major urban stations.

"My personal attitude is if you take away the instrument of destruction, the person that's a little bit unruly can be handled," Higgs said.

Greyhound instituted new security measures for buses in the U.S. with the help of a grant from the Department of Homeland Security, but there still is no blanket ban on all-but-essential carry-on luggage or a requirement that all passengers be checked with a magnetic wand before boarding.

Instead, Greyhound has installed protective screening for drivers and conducts random wanding and baggage checks of passengers, along with video surveillance and other measures that the company cannot discuss, said Wambaugh, the company spokeswoman.

In Canada, Li's trial is set for March 2. He has not yet entered a plea, but his lawyer told reporters here that the trial is expected to focus on his mental health. That could set the stage for a verdict that would allow him to be freed by a provincial review board once he is deemed healthy and no longer a threat.

That possibility outrages De Delley.

"What he did didn't just destroy my son and our family, but think of all those people on that bus," she said. "They are Mr. Li's living victims. I know what I see in my mind, and I wasn't there. I can't imagine having actually witnessed it, and having to live day and night with those images in my mind."

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kim.murphy@latimes.com

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