Bus driver's route leads to employee of the year

City worker helped police catch suspect in June bank robbery

February 01, 2000|By Amy Oakes | Amy Oakes,SUN STAFF

After almost 19 years of driving a bus for the city of Annapolis, Amelia D. Wallace has gotten to know most of her passengers. She always greets them with a welcoming smile as they board and often tells them stories about her son, a standout high school football player.

So when a nervous-looking man came aboard in June, Wallace took notice. Then, when the bus made a routine stop and the man anxiously departed, the veteran driver for the city's Department of Transportation knew something was wrong.

Wallace alerted police officers -- a police wagon had been following her by coincidence -- and they chased the man. About 20 minutes later, William Darrington Lewis, 35, was arrested in connection with the robbery of Farmers Bank of Maryland in Eastport earlier that day.

"It wasn't anything he said, it was his action, his mannerisms," Wallace said. "He wanted to leave my bus as soon as he got on."

For her crime-solving efforts and her dependable service, Wallace was named City Employee of the Year yesterday. The mayor and representatives from the Police Department and the bank surprised Wallace with gifts and a certificate of recognition.

Mayor Dean L. Johnson, who read the announcement over the bus system's dispatch service after the presentation, said Wallace was chosen by a committee of representatives from each city department. This is the second year in a row that a Department of Transportation employee has won the award.

"We're looking for someone who does service to the community that's extra and goes beyond the call of duty," Johnson said.

Katherine Barron, vice president and regional manager of Farmers Bank of Maryland, thanked Wallace for her community service and for helping police catch Lewis, who they said had walked into the bank and robbed a teller the morning of June 2.

"We greatly appreciate your help," Barron told Wallace. "It was such a relief to find they captured the robber."

Wallace said she used tips she learned a few weeks earlier from police about being aware of suspicious activity.

"It's very pleasing to find that she applied what she learned in class," said police Lt. Robert E. Beans, who instructed the drivers.

Wallace is one of the department's 16 full-time bus drivers. She is second in seniority and has driven all seven fixed routes through Annapolis.

This is her second stint on the Yellow Route, which starts at the transfer station on Spa Road, goes through Eastport, downtown and back to Spa Road. Twenty-six stops, about 12 1/2 miles and 300 to 500 passengers daily.

Despite having to drive 48 1/2 miles from her Harford County home to get to work by 5: 30 a.m., Wallace, 42, intends to retire as an Annapolis bus driver.

"I love Annapolis because you get to know all your passengers by first name," said Wallace, who calls herself the "bartender" of the bus company. "I've got too much time vested in Annapolis."

Wallace was born and raised in Shady Side, then lived in Annapolis. She moved to the Eastern Shore for four years and has been living in Edgewood for two.

A single mother, Wallace said she is most proud of her 16-year-old son, James Murray, an all-county offensive lineman. Many of her regular passengers, she said, remember James when he was a young boy and have followed his progress.

"They've seen him on occasion," Wallace said. "I always bring in clippings and pictures of him."

Danielle Sydne Matland, director of the city's Department of Transportation, said Wallace is well-liked by her passengers and co-workers. She often has to work overtime because of the department's shortage of entry-level drivers.

"It puts an incredible burden on our experienced bus drivers, like Amelia," Matland said. "We need more drivers."

Wallace thought she was giving a speech yesterday at the Department of Transportation to some new recruits at the end of shift, but instead was greeted with a small surprise party in her honor.

"There's not too many things that escape me, but this was one of them," she said. "This is just wonderful."

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