Bus driver not guilty a year after attempted rape arrest

07/26/2011 4:00 PM |

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | An 8A bus leaves the Riverhead train station in April.

The Suffolk Transit driver accused of pulling his bus over and trying to rape a lone female passenger last summer was acquitted of charges in Suffolk County Criminal Court on Tuesday.

Judge Barbara Kahn found Richard Downes, 36, of Middle Island not guilty of misdemeanor counts of public lewdness and second-degree unlawful imprisonment, prosecutors said.

“Hopefully, he’ll be able to pick up the pieces,” Mr. Downes’ Valley Stream attorney Evette Ennis said just hours after the verdict. “My client has maintained his innocence from the beginning. The court has spoken.”

A  grand jury indicted Mr. Downes on four charges Aug. 26, 2010, two months after the alleged attack. Judge Kahn later dismissed the most serious of the charges, two counts of sex abuse, finding insufficient evidence in the grand jury indictment to sustain those charges.

Mr. Downes was originally charged by police with first-degree attempted rape as well as second-degree unlawful imprisonment.

“We failed to prove the remaining charges beyond a reasonable doubt,” said Bob Clifford, a spokesman for Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota.

The non-jury bench trial began on July 15.

Ms. Ennis noted that her client refusal to plead guilty was a testament to his innocence, though she declined to explain his account of what happened that day.

“He wanted to go to trial,” she said. “That’s how firm he stood.”

Last June, the alleged victim told State Police she was the lone passenger on the 8A bus when Mr. Downes stopped the bus on County Road 51 near the county court complex about 3 p.m. and then 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, she reported.

Richard Downes

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 incident 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.

The 8A route is contracted to the Greenport-based Sunrise Coach Lines, where Mr. Downes worked for a year before the incident. The number listed for Sunrise Coach has since been disconnected.

At the time of his arrest, a Sunrise Coach spokesperson said Mr. Downes’ driving record was clean and that he had no prior disciplinary issues before the incident.

vchinese@timesreview.com