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Anchorage's People Mover investigating disturbance involving blind passenger

Devin Kelly
William Toliver II wants to bring attention to issues involving the blind and disabled following a recent incident during which he says a People Mover bus driver shoved him. The Anchorage bus system has apologized for and is investigating the disturbance. Erik Hill / Alaska Dispatch News

Officials with Anchorage’s bus service have apologized for and are investigating a physical disturbance aboard a bus involving a bus driver and a visually impaired passenger who said he was shoved by the driver.

The incident occurred about 10 p.m. on Aug. 1, when police responded to a report of a disturbance on a People Mover bus on Northwood Street and Strawberry Road. The driver of the bus contacted police and said a passenger had assaulted him and refused to get off the bus, Anchorage police spokesperson Jennifer Castro wrote in an email.

Officers arrived to find the driver and the passenger separated and sitting on the bus quietly, Castro wrote. The driver told police the passenger had boarded the bus and was trying to put money in the wrong slot on the machine, and he had tried to help by moving his hand to the correct slot.

The driver told police the passenger “used his fist and slammed the driver’s hand down on the money machine,” according to Castro. But the passenger, William Toliver II, told the police that he only slapped the driver’s hand away.

“Not in a malicious way, I said, ‘I can do it myself,’ ” Toliver, who is 70 and has been almost completely blind for the last seven years, said in an interview.

The driver told police he told Toliver to get off the bus, and when Toliver refused, the driver tried pushing him off, Castro said. Toliver said the driver stood up and shoved him.

Neither the driver nor Toliver wanted to press charges at the time of the incident but Toliver contacted police two days later asking to do so, Castro said. The police officer helped Toliver fill out a citizen arrest form, and the case was forwarded to the municipal prosecutor’s office for review, according to Castro.

Lance Wilber, the director of People Mover, declined to comment on the specifics of the case. But he said he reviewed video footage of the incident, and the department is conducting an investigation based on the interaction between Toliver and the driver.

“It’s not the type of approach that we set our standards and customer service to be,” Wilber said in an interview.  

Wilber said he personally called Toliver as soon as he learned of the incident and apologized for what had happened. He said he has also spoken to the driver, who was not being identified.

Wilber said any further disciplinary actions would be determined in the course of the investigation.

Toliver is vice president of Alaska Independent Blind, a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization. He said he’s lived in Anchorage for 30 years, and that People Mover has otherwise “been really good to me” over the years.

“I am not a negative person. I’m not trying to get recognition,” Toliver said. By speaking up, he said, he was hoping to advocate on behalf of others who are blind or disabled.

Regan Mattingly, the director of the vision rehabilitation nonprofit Alaska Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired, said he hadn’t heard of the People Mover incident and does not know Toliver personally. But in general, he said, members of the public don’t always know what to do when they meet or encounter a blind person.

He said it’s best not to grab or touch a person who is blind to offer help, but to first ask verbally.

“You want to go up and ask politely -- verbally approach them first,” Mattingly said. “And sometimes people want help, and sometimes people don’t. It’s an individual choice.”

Members of Alaska Independent Blind held a meeting Thursday to discuss the People Mover incident, and they plan to testify in support of Toliver at the monthly Americans with Disabilities Act Advisory Commission meeting on Wednesday, said the organization’s president, Richard Gardenhire.