MTA Driver Gets 8 Years for Assault

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Pomona Superior Court judge sentenced an MTA bus driver to eight years in prison Thursday for sexually assaulting a female passenger who fell asleep on his bus.

Judge Clifton Allen ordered Leonard Henry Howell, 56, to serve the maximum sentence in state prison for the charge of felony sexual assault by penetration with a foreign object.

Howell, who has been on leave without pay from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, was convicted by a jury in early May.

The 26-year-old San Dimas woman had testified that, on Aug. 14, Howell offered her a ride at the El Monte bus station to Los Angeles after she had left work early due to sickness.

Along the route, Howell stopped at a La Puente liquor store and purchased a cold medicine for her, she testified. She said she fell asleep after taking the medication.

The woman testified that she awoke half dressed in the parked bus in Pomona with Howell kissing her bare chest.

DNA evidence revealed Howell's saliva was found on the woman's chest, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Christina Weiss, who prosecuted the case.

The defense argued that Howell had consensual sex with the woman in his van before they boarded his bus.

Gary Meastas, Howell's lawyer, said the jury was unfairly swayed against his client by Weiss' declaration during the trial that Howell was lying.

"My position is there was testimony and evidence that, without the prosecutor's involvement, without her statement, the jury would have reached another decision," he said.

Meastas said he will appeal the conviction.

According to testimony from another woman, the driver propositioned her, knocked her unconscious and raped her 15 years ago while she was on a bus with him. Howell and the MTA's predecessor were found liable in that case after a civil trial in 1991, and a jury awarded her $650,000.

Steven Carnevale, assistant county counsel, said Thursday that a civil suit has been filed on behalf of the victim in the latest case, but no further details were available.

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