A Suffolk Transit bus driver pleaded not guilty this week to attempted rape charges after he allegedly pulled a bus over near the County Center in Riverside and attacked a female passenger Saturday, authorities said.
The alleged victim told State Police that she was the lone passenger on the 8A bus when the driver, Richard Downes, 43, of Middle Island, pulled the bus over on County Road 51 near the county court complex about 3 p.m., took her to the back of the bus and tried to rape her. She fought him off and eventually Mr. Downes stopped the attack, the woman told police. He then dropped her off in Riverhead and continued on his route.
The woman flagged down a Riverhead Police officer who brought her to the State Police barracks in Riverside, which has jurisdiction in Southampton Town where the attack occurred. Shortly after, State Police stopped Mr. Downes as he was driving the bus on Route 24 just off the Long Island Expressway in Calverton.
Robert Schinnick, the director of the county’s transportation department explained that though the county owns the bus system and sets the schedules, it contracts hiring and maintenance work to six area companies.
The 8A route is contracted to the Greenport-based Sunrise Coach Lines, which he said had screened Mr. Downes when he was hired.
He said this is the first time he is aware of that a bus driver attacked a passenger on a Suffolk County bus.
Christa Brown, the president of Sunrise Coach Lines, said Mr. Downes was employed with her company for just under a year and that he had undergone a thorough background investigation. She said his driving record was clean and that he had no prior disciplinary issues before the incident.
“There was no disqualifying matter in his background,” she said adding he will be suspended pending the outcome of the case.
Mr. Downes, who entered his plea in Southampton Town Justice court Sunday, was being held at the Suffolk County jail in Riverside on $1,000 bail as of Monday. His attorney, Evette Ennis of Valley Stream, did not return calls seeking comment.
He was charged with first-degree attempted rape and second-degree unlawful imprisonment.