TNP, 14 May 2007
SHOCK OUTRAGE SHAME
Student from top school allegedly punches bus driver
By Hedy Khoo
A 17-YEAR-OLD student of one of Singapore's top junior colleges allegedly punched a bus driver in the face during a quarrel on Wednesday.
The 53-year-old SBS Transit driver tried to stop the Hwa Chong Institution student from leaving.
The teen's girlfriend, who is from another school, had been found to be using an invalid concession card.
The bus driver, who suffered minor bruises on his face, was given two days medical leave. He has lodged a police report against the student, and the police said they are investigating.
SBS Transit said it is taking the matter seriously as the driver was assaulted in the course of his duty. Ms Tammy Tan, SBS Transit's director of corporate communications, said the bus captain had acted according to company procedures when he retained the concession card.
DRIVER CAN RETAIN CARD
Bus captains, she said, are authorised to retain any concession card for investigation. 'Our bus captains have the right to work without fear of being attacked. We will seek redress for them through all available channels,' she said.
The driver, Mr Wong Kok Leong, told The New Paper on Sunday that he never expected to be assaulted on the job in his 25 years of working. Worse, he said, was being hit by someone younger than his own children, who are aged 18, 20 and 25.
Mr Wong said that on Wednesday afternoon, the student and his friend boarded his SBS bus No 170, opposite Hwa Chong Institution, on Dunearn Road. The boy was in his school uniform, but the girl was not. The boy's friend tapped her wallet on the card reader, but it could not deduct the fare from the ez-link card. Instead, the card reader beeped continuously. The alarm was activated because the student's concession card had either been reported lost or stolen. So Mr Wong said he had to follow the standard procedure of retaining the card.
When he told her she had to surrender the card, she initially refused. She handed over only after he insisted and explained that the card had a problem and had to be retained. Said Mr Wong in Mandarin: 'All this while, the male student kept arguing that the ez-link card belonged to the girl. I kept repeating my explanation, but he refused to listen.'
Just as Mr Wong was about to issue her a retention slip telling her to contact TransitLink, he said the male student snatched the ez-link card from his hand. Both students then went and sat down.
Mr Wong quickly pressed the emergency help button to alert the operations control centre that he was having trouble. The control centre's operator advised him to drive ahead slowly while waiting for the traffic inspector to catch up with his bus to assist him.
Six bus-stops later, a passenger wanted to alight. Said Mr Wong in Mandarin: 'I asked the passenger to alight from the front door as I was afraid the students would try to leave.' True enough, he said the students tried to make a dash for it. He then stopped the bus and stood at the front exit blocking them.
He said: 'I held out both my arms and held the poles on either side of the bus to prevent them from leaving. 'The female student tried to leave, but I refused to budge. Next thing I knew, the male student punched me on the left side of my face.' He said he stumbled forward and fell on the floor, hitting the driver's seat.
He claimed that the male student allegedly continued to hit him. In the process, Mr Wong's shirt pocket was torn. 'I was too shocked to react. I couldn't believe a kid was beating me,' said Mr Wong. It stopped only after a male passenger came forward to restrain the student, who struggled and shouted until the passenger let go. 'The passenger had to hold him back by both his arms, or he would have continued to beat me. Some of the female passengers started to scold him,' Mr Wong recounted.
One passenger, who wanted to be known only as Mr Vel, saw the incident. 'The boy punched him suddenly and the bus driver fell down. Everybody started shouting at the boy to stop,' Mr Vel, 34, an airport technician, told The New Paper on Sunday.
Another passenger, a 52-year-old Canadian housewife who declined to be named, said the boy was very violent and was shouting at Mr Wong, who had remained calm throughout. She said she had not been paying close attention at first. The next time she looked, she saw the girl trying to leave the bus from the front exit. 'The bus driver tapped the girl on her shoulder. The boy got angry and started to push and shove the bus driver,' she recalled.
She had been sitting three rows from the front, but was alarmed by the commotion and quickly moved further to the back of the bus. She then saw the boy push the driver into the driver's seat. 'Two men came and tried to restrain him and made the boy sit down. But he was still in a temper, and he suddenly got up and slapped the bus driver on the face,' she said.
'The whole bus of about 20 passengers were all shouting and scolding the boy, telling him to stop,' she added.
The passenger who held the boy back then talked to him.
Both Mr Vel and the Canadian passenger heard the boy speaking to Mr Wong afterwards, but they couldn't understand what was said as the conversation was in Mandarin.
Said the Canadian housewife: 'It seemed to be a trivial matter. He didn't have to be so aggressive to the bus driver. The bus driver did nothing to provoke him. 'There are other ways to settle problems. There is no need to get violent. The boy must be punished,' she added.
Mr Vel was taken aback by the incident. 'How can a young boy punch an old man? The bus driver looked elderly,' he said. 'It's shameful for a student to do this, especially in uniform.'
A senior traffic inspector from SBS Transit, Mr Serijit Singh, 58, who arrived at the scene, said he saw the student arguing with the driver, whose uniform was torn. Said Mr Singh: 'The student insisted the bus captain had no right to retain the card.'
After Mr Singh explained why the bus captain had to retain the card, the boy calmed down. 'He became very frightened when I told him the police had been alerted by the operations control centre. I told him it was serious as he had used physical force on a bus captain.'
The passengers on board were told to alight and take another bus.
When the police arrived, the boy called his father on the handphone.
Mr Singh said the boy started to cry on the phone as he was speaking. 'He seemed remorseful,' recalled MrSingh. 'He apologised to the bus captain saying, 'Uncle, I am sorry I lost my temper.'
When Mr Wong drove the bus into Ban San Terminal, the boy's father was there waiting to apologise to him. What the boy's father did next surprised him. 'I was stunned when the boy's father knelt down in front of me to beg forgiveness for his son,' said Mr Wong. The humiliating scene brought tears to Mr Wong's eyes.. 'I was angry earlier on by what happened. But I was more horrified by the father begging me like this. I am a father of three children and I know a father's love for his children. I feel very sorry for the father and I feel sorry for the boy.'
Mr Wong said he lost sleep that night thinking about the incident. 'I feel embarrassed that I let a young boy who is even younger than my son hit me. But how can I return the blow? 'In my eyes, he is still a child. But I feel I lost my sense of self-respect,' he said. 'In our line of work, we are used to dealing with rude passengers who scold us. But never in my 25 years of driving buses did I expect I would be punched by a young boy for trying to do my job.'
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