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Heroes or Villains in Fracas on Bus?

Times Staff Writer

A transient who threatened to stab an RTD bus driver was critically injured Monday after the driver and at least two passengers overpowered him and pinned him down in the bus’ stairwell until police arrived, officials said Tuesday.

A man police identified as John Bonwell, 41, was rushed to the Hospital of the Good Samaritan and treated for cardiac arrest possibly brought on by strangulation, said hospital spokeswoman, Ellen Brenner.

“He was definitely strangled,” said Brenner on Tuesday, adding that Bonwell had also suffered a puncture wound above his left eye. “He’s in about as critical condition as you can get. I don’t know if he’s going to make it through the night or the week.”

Police did not arrest Bonwell and still are investigating what happened on the Route 20 bus.

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Manhandling a Possibility

Detective Frank Bishop of the Wilshire division said it is “not beyond the realm of possibility that the guy was manhandled. But the only thing we have right now is that this guy (attempted to) attack the driver . . . and he (the driver) was trying to hold him down.”

According to police and RTD officials, the attack occurred shortly after 4 p.m. Monday when RTD driver Don Smith stopped to unload passengers from his crowded bus at Wilton Place and Wilshire Boulevard.

He was about to drive off when Bonwell appeared “and started pounding on the doors,” Bishop said. After Smith let him on, Bonwell “was acting kind of crazy, yelling and screaming at the bus driver and using a lot of profanity. The driver felt he was going to do something. . . . The guy had said, ‘I’m going to cut you.’ ”

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Driver Stops Bus

Bishop said Smith pulled over at Western Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard, four blocks from where Bonwell had boarded, and opened the doors of the bus. At that moment, witnesses told police that Bonwell was distracted by a passenger who moved away from him, and Smith, seeing that the suspect was holding a folding knife, stood up and grabbed Bonwell’s arm.

Then “the fight was on,” Bishop said. The two men wrestled with each other, and Bonwell knocked Smith into the bus’ stairwell. Smith was able to overpower the suspect, getting on top of him, and “he just held him down,” Bishop said.

The driver of a bus behind Smith’s apparently saw the altercation and notified a dispatcher, Bishop said. The dispatcher than notified police.

In the meantime, Smith had been joined by at least two unidentified male passengers who helped hold Bonwell down.

Although the four or five passengers police were able to interview after the incident gave no indication that Bonwell had been beaten or strangled, Bishop said Bonwell “apparently was in an unconscious state or close to it at the time he was handcuffed.”

“Maybe one of the people did handle the man by the neck,” said Bishop, who added that hospital officials had not told police the extent of Bonwell’s injuries. “I don’t have any report that happened, but we’re actively interviewing anybody we can get a hold of.”

RTD spokesman Greg Davy said it is not the agency’s policy “to encourage a passenger to become involved in an altercation. There are all kinds of liability problems with the likelihood that the passenger could be hurt.”

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