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Florida driver fired after he punched passenger who spit on him, used racial slurs

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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (CBS12) — Two recent violent attacks on Palm Tran have bus drivers worried.

They say barriers need to be installed on buses to separate drivers from unruly, violent passengers.

When Palm Tran bus drivers get behind the wheel, they sometimes encounter violent passengers.

In one incident in July, a female Palm Tran driver was hit by a passenger with a receiver from a radio.

Another incident in May cost a Palm Tran bus driver his job.

The incident, which was caught on bus surveillance cameras, happened on a Palm Tran bus on a Sunday afternoon May 13. It began as a dispute over the bus fare.

There were only a handful of people on the bus, including a passenger who was very loud.

The passenger, who is white, used insulting racially-offensive language, taunting the bus driver who is black.

According to the bus drivers’ union, this taunting went on for about 15 minutes, with the passenger standing in the aisle, calling the driver the “N” word and spewing threatening and derogatory remarks at the driver.

The driver warned the passenger to stop it.

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“You call me n--- one more time! You call me n----- one more time and I’m gonna (inaudible) your (expletive)!” shouted the Palm Tran bus driver.

Then the unruly passenger spit on the driver.

According to the union, the bus driver couldn't take it anymore and stopped the bus. Then you can see on the video, the Palm Tran driver repeatedly striking the passenger. Palm Tran says the passenger appeared to be intoxicated and unruly, and the driver punched the passenger 7 times.

He hit the passenger so hard, he knocked the passenger unconscious and he landed on the floor where he laid unconscious for several minutes.

“Emotionally the driver lost it, and reacted in self-defense as well as reacted to being spit upon,” said Dwight Mattingly, president of Amalgamated Transit Union local 1577, which represents Palm Tran drivers.

In a letter to the bus driver dated August 6, Palm Tran called the bus driver’s actions “reprehensible” as well as “an egregious and abhorrent level of misconduct.”

He was fired, but the union feels the driver did not deserve it.

“I think there’s no place in our society for that use of language and I think anybody’s gonna have a reaction after being spat upon and racially degraded,” Mattingly said.

The union says the driver should’ve been given re-training and a less severe form of discipline.

But Palm Tran called his actions “intolerable” and contrary to their mission of providing access to everyone safely and courteously.

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The union may challenge his dismissal as an unjust termination and try to get his job back.

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