November 17, 2008
Transit wins big at the ballot box!
Q&A with FTA's James Simpson
TARC provides a Ride to Safety
Transit Operators Help Rescue Missing Children
Public transportation employees in Nevada and Virginia went beyond the call of duty to help rescue children who had been reported missing with Amber Alerts.
Julio Diaz, a bus operator with the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada in Las Vegas, was operating an RTC paratransit vehicle when he spotted 6-year-old kidnap victim Cole Puffinburger late Oct. 18 on a sidewalk outside a church in Las Vegas after seeing the Amber Alert.
Once aboard the bus, the boy identified himself as the child kidnapped at gunpoint from his home four days earlier, who had been the subject of a massive search. He told Diaz he had been dropped off just a few minutes before and had not seen his mother for a few days.
Diaz immediately contacted his dispatcher, who summoned police. After positively identifying the boy, police took him to University Medical Center, where he was examined and released to his father. The child was unharmed.
“Something was not right,” Diaz said about seeing the boy alone late at night. He said he pulled over to ask if the boy was all right. The child approached the bus and asked the driver, “Can you take me home?”
RTC General Manager Jacob Snow commended Diaz for being alert and taking action and noted that the commission board will honor him later this month.
According to Snow, the boy appeared to be in very good condition, saying, “He wasn’t crying or emotionally distraught.” Snow also told reporters the Amber Alert issued after Cole was abducted had bus drivers looking for the boy, and that drivers’ lounges throughout the RTC service area had posted the boy’s photo.
Authorities believe the boy’s kidnapping was intended to “send a message” to the boy’s maternal grandfather, Clemens Tinnemeyer, who is suspected of stealing up to $20 million from a Mexican drug cartel trafficking methamphetamine. Police say the two kidnappers, posing as police officers, abducted Cole at gunpoint after tying up the child’s mother and her boyfriend.
At a news conference following the rescue, Cole's father, Robert Puffinburger, smiled, cried, and thanked everyone involved in helping bring the boy home. “I’m just so glad he’s safe,” he said.
Another Transit Hero
Less than 24 hours after Diaz found the missing first-grader in Las Vegas, a child in northern Virginia went missing, triggering an Amber Alert throughout the Washington metropolitan area. Again, a bus operator provided critical assistance in the effort that led to the safe rescue of 5-year-old Kamron Wells, who was abducted Oct. 19 after wandering away from his grandfather and sister at a supermarket.
Police in Fairfax County, VA, searched for the child using helicopters, bloodhounds, foot patrols, and bike-mounted officers, along with surveillance footage from area businesses. After seeing surveillance tape of a boy matching Kamron’s description being led away by a woman, the police issued the Amber Alert, which appeared on local news broadcasts.
When she saw the Amber Alert, Jennifer Edwards, a bus operator with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, recognized the boy and remembered his name—having picked up Kamron and the woman at a stop just behind the supermarket and driving them only one stop, to a nearby high-rise complex—and immediately called 911. Within the hour, Metro Transit Police gave the FBI the videotape from Edwards’ bus, providing a valuable, time-critical lead.
“The FBI credits Edwards for her swift action and her detailed description of the suspect, as well our Transit Police who responded so quickly to get the video to the FBI, ” said Metro spokesperson Candace Smith, adding: “We’re very proud of Jennifer Edwards and our Transit Police for helping in the search for Kamron Wells.”
D.C. Police found the boy about two hours later at a townhouse in Washington.