Thursday, September 06, 2007

City of Ottawa settles lawsuit filed by family of man stabbed to death on bus

The family of a 23-year-old man who was stabbed to death on an OC Transpo bus recently settled a lawsuit against the City of Ottawa and its bus driver.

Michael Oatway was attacked on a city bus on Sept. 21, 2006, after being confronted by a group of youths who demanded he hand over his iPod. A 17-year-old has been charged with first-degree murder, and a preliminary hearing began this week.

The plaintiffs in the suit included Mr. Oatway's mother, Catherine Oatway, his brother, Jesse Jeremy Routh, and his sister, Grace Ann Moses.

The statement of claim filed last year included allegations that the city failed to have proper police or security officers riding buses and monitoring transit stations, failed to install security cameras on buses and failed to adequately train drivers on how to deal with violent passengers.

The allegations against the driver included that he failed to properly monitor events on the bus, failed to ask the youths to leave the bus when they began harassing the victim, and failed to prevent or end the assault.

A spokesman for the city confirmed the settlement, but would not elaborate on any aspect of the outcome.

"We did settle with the family last week, but one of the conditions of the settlement was complete confidentiality," said city spokesman Michael Fitzpatrick.

On the safety and security issues, Mr. Fitzpatrick said "there's always ongoing security issues" being addressed.

And since the incident, he said special constables have been assigned to the bus routes and security cameras have been put into place along certain routes.

Alain Mercier, director of transit services, said the bus company's security training program has been revised to help ensure drivers are prepared "when things happen" aboard the buses.

He said 40 to 45 transit security guards are now special constables, meaning they have the authority to make arrests.

Mr. Mercier confirmed that 10 video cameras are in place as a part of a pilot project. He said before the end of the year, recommendations will be made to city council to equip all buses with cameras.

According to the claim filed last year, Mr. Oatway boarded an OC Transpo bus in Kanata around 11 p.m., heading west along Route 118. He sat at the back of the bus, listening to his iPod. Four male youths stepped on at an intersection and, despite the many available empty seats, walked straight toward Mr. Oatway and "formed a wall" around him and demanded he hand over his iPod, the claim states.

One youth pulled a knife and Mr. Oatway was attacked.

"Michael, who lacked the size and strength of the youths, raised his arms in an effort to shield himself from attack," the claim says. "Ultimately, Michael was stabbed in the heart. The four youths exited from the back of the bus and fled the scene."

Mr. Oatway, gasping for breath, stood up and "staggered to the front of the bus where he collapsed," the claim says, alleging "it was only at this point" that the driver called for assistance. Mr. Oatway was taken to hospital where he was pronounced dead.