Six youths charged with attack on light rail car

March 24, 1994|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,Sun Staff Writer

A tip from a city police informant led to the arrest yesterday of six boys accused of intimidating passengers aboard a light rail car three weeks ago, forcing it to stop and throwing rocks at its windows from outside the train.

No one was injured in the March 4 incident, but the confrontation prompted police to increase security on the 2-year-old trolley line. It also highlighted the Mass Transit Administration's growing problems with juvenile thuggery on its buses and rail vehicles.

"I see this as a strong message that we're providing for the safety and welfare of our customers, and we intend to respond to incidents like this immediately," said Bernard B. Foster Sr., the MTA's police chief.

Mr. Foster said "two or three" more youngsters are expected to be arrested in connection with the incident. All of the youths taken into custody have been charged as juveniles with malicious destruction of property.

One of the teens probably will be charged with assault also, accused of throwing a rock at a passenger.

All of the suspects are between the ages of 12 and 14, and most have records in the juvenile justice system, including two who were under house arrest at the time of the incident, police said.

One of the boys taken into custody yesterday is alleged to have committed an armed robbery.

Police say the youths caused about $2,000 damage to MTA property, breaking three windows on the one-car train.

The incident began at 11 p.m. when the youths boarded a southbound train at Baltimore Street.

"They were hollering at all the white people to move to the back of the bus," said Wayne Wright, who was returning home from a monster truck show at the Baltimore Arena. "It was filthy language you wouldn't believe."

At the Westport Station, one of the boys pulled the emergency door release, preventing the train from continuing. The train's operator radioed police for help. About 100 passengers were on board at the time.

The boys then threw ballast rocks, breaking several windows and shattering one that sprayed glass. Passengers apparently were not cut.

When police appeared, the boys fled.

Mr. Foster credited city police for making the arrests possible. The initial tip was provided by a teen in the custody of city police. The informant is facing criminal charges unrelated to the light rail incident.

The incident was typical of the problems caused by disruptive groups of youths on light rail, buses and subway cars, officials said. The youths intimidate riders and vandalize MTA property, and the problem seems to be worse in the afternoons after school, officials said.

The number of crimes reported to the MTA rose significantly last year, with the biggest increase reported on light rail. Criminal complaints dropped in January and February, as compared with the first two months of 1993.

Since the rock-throwing incident, police have increased the number of uniformed and undercover officers on light rail and created a hot line for tips.

Anyone who calls the MTA police at 333-3333 with information leading to an arrest and conviction may receive a reward of $1,000.

Mr. Foster said he hopes the MTA will receive financial compensation from the boys' parents. After the charges are resolved, he said, he would like to ask the youths what motivated their behavior.

"We'd like to talk to them and find out what social problems prompted them to do this and maybe establish a bridge of communication," he said.

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