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Published August 31 2012

Jefferson Lines to review security at Fargo terminal

FARGO – Jim Lovejoy says he loves working with people, and he loves his job as a bus driver.

He’d also love to regain the chunk of his right ear that he lost when he was assaulted in the Jefferson Lines bus terminal here on Aug. 14, allegedly by a disgruntled customer.

Lovejoy, who is recovering from being struck in the head with a metal magazine rack, said in a phone interview from his Twin Cities-area home this week that he believes Jefferson Lines needs to add security staff in its terminals. He’s asking the city to consider requiring the company to do so.

“I just don’t feel it’s safe,” said Lovejoy, who needed 11 stitches for his injuries.

Kevin Pursey, director of marketing and culture for Minneapolis-based Jefferson Lines, acknowledged the company has no security staff of its own at its bus terminals. Its Minneapolis hub is co-located with Greyhound, which provides security on site.

“Obviously, an incident like what happened up in Fargo makes us review that to make sure that, you know, is this something that we need to look at adding or not adding,” Pursey said.

According to Cass County court records, 25-year-old Nigel Wakefield, of Detroit, allegedly assaulted Lovejoy after he refused to allow Wakefield to board the bus because his pants were sagging too low, exposing his underwear. Wakefield was charged with aggravated assault.

Lovejoy said the Fargo terminal at 855 45th St. S. is a major east-west hub that has become busier with passenger traffic to and from western North Dakota’s oil fields. Attempts to obtain passenger counts from Jefferson Lines weren’t successful.Without security staff on site, bus drivers often bear the brunt of passengers’ frustrations, Lovejoy said. He recalled one incident about two months ago in which a war veteran traveling to Wyoming to be treated for post-traumatic stress disorder “went off on me” because his luggage had been misplaced and it contained the military paperwork he needed.

“The first thing they want to do is go after the driver because we’re the only one there really from the company,” he said.

Neighbors of the Jefferson Lines terminal, which relocated from downtown Fargo to its current location in January 2010, also have raised concerns about safety, traffic and noise.

Last winter, members of a townhome association wrote a letter to the city reporting that bus passengers waiting to board were soliciting money from the neighborhood. The residents asked if the business could be relocated to a nonresidential area.

Lt. Joel Vettel said police looked at records and found no excessive amount of calls to the terminal compared with other locations in that area.

Fargo Planning Director Jim Gilmour said the terminal sits in a commercially zoned district and is an allowed use. He said there’s nothing in city ordinance requiring a particular business to have security.

“It’s up to the business,” he said.

The city hires private security to periodically staff the Ground Transportation Center in downtown Fargo, Gilmour said. Staffers show up at unpredictable hours so people won’t know when they will or won’t be there, he said.

“Some of it has to do with people who aren’t using the bus system, who are just hanging around there,” Gilmour said, adding the depot has seen fewer problems since Fargo Municipal Court moved into the facility and police began storing their patrol cars there.

Kris Sweeney, manager at Just for You Clothing, which is located in the same business complex as the Jefferson Lines terminal, said the situation there has steadily gone downhill since the terminal opened.

She showed a reporter a picture on her cellphone of a man sleeping on the sidewalk between the store and bus terminal on the afternoon of Aug. 9. Store employees often must pick up liquor bottles outside the store in the morning, she said.

However, she added, “There have been some nice people who’ve been on the bus who’ve come in and patronized the store, too.”

Pursey, who joined the company last October, said that as with a lot of organizations, Jefferson Lines must look at how many people come through its terminals and determine if it makes sense to have security.

“I do know, in talking to folks regarding the incident, that this is somewhat of an unusual situation,” he said of the assault. “We haven’t had incidences like that. So that’s something where we take it seriously and look at it and say, does this make sense to add security?”

Lovejoy didn’t hold back his opinion on the matter.

“Something’s got to happen,” he said. “It’s just a matter of time before somebody else gets hurt.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528