Bus Drivers Honor One Of Their Own -- Memorial For Mark Mclaughlin

Slain Metro bus driver Mark McLaughlin was remembered at a memorial service today as a spirited, fun-loving man whose life must not be mourned, but rather cheered and applauded.

At the service at KeyArena, attended by bus drivers from throughout the region, King County Executive Ron Sims called McLaughlin "an individual who loved life, who had good things to say to everyone."

Sims asked the gathering of drivers, passengers, dignitaries and relatives to stand up and greet those next to them with handshakes, hugs and kind words.

Noting that the memorial was in a sports arena - a venue of celebration - Sims said, "I want you to give a shout for Mark McLaughlin, so he can hear it in heaven."

That drew a loud, sustained cheer and round of applause for McLaughlin, who was fatally shot by a passenger 11 days ago as he drove a bus from Aurora Village into Seattle.

The memorial service began late this morning after a procession through downtown Seattle of some 80 transit buses and vans - one bus bearing a black wreath and ribbons in McLaughlin's memory.

His murder at the hands of passenger Silas Cool was "a tragedy that flashed into our living room and made us all stop and take assessments of what's important," U.S. Sen. Patty Murray told the audience.

Too many public servants are taken for granted, she said.

"Mark McLaughlin reminded this entire community . . . that each of us needs to take time out of our lives to say thank you to those who work tirelessly around us.

"He did his job with dignity and respect," she said, expressing thanks to all drivers at the service.

"We all thank you for the work you do, for being there day in and day out, for caring about the strangers as well as the friends who board your buses every day."

Along with Metro drivers, bus drivers also came from Portland and British Columbia not just to pay their respects but to express shared feelings of kinship and concern.

"We stick together," said Lyle Smordin of West Vancouver Municipal Transit, one of about 100 drivers and three buses from British Columbia. "We are all brothers and sisters in this."

"We come together not only to acknowledge him, but to support each other," said Metro transit union president Barry Samet. "This has been a tragic incident, but we will all get through it together."

"We are a family," Samet added. "We might leave our job sites and go our separate ways, but on the job we are truly brothers and sisters."

McLaughlin was driving bus route 359 when, without warning, Cool stood up and fatally shot him, then killed himself.

After McLaughlin lost control of the bus, it careened off the Aurora Bridge, falling some 50 feet and injuring 34 passengers. One passenger, 69-year-old Herman Liebelt, died in a hospital the next day.

Because so many Metro drivers participated in today's procession and memorial service, local bus service was delayed on many routes this morning.

Metro expected that to happen and encouraged riders earlier in the week to find other ways to get around.

Slaying hit drivers hard

McLaughlin's murder hit drivers around the area hard, said Del Walker, 40, one of 15 drivers from Bellingham-based Whatcom Transportation Authority who brought a bus to Seattle for the procession.

"It was a shock, but - and I hate to say this - we knew it was only a matter of time - you never know who's sitting next to you," he said.

"It's something that all of us as drivers fear, the potential for violent acts. It's something we want to make a statement about, that we are aware of it, and concerned."

Two Seattle police officers on motorcycles led the procession to KeyArena, followed by Metro police cars, a tow truck and Metro bus No. 2106, which fellow Metro drivers had cleaned, repaired and decorated yesterday in McLaughlin's memory. That bus number was selected because it was also McLaughlin's badge number.

Photo and jacket adorn bus

McLaughlin's photo and a uniform jacket hanging behind the driver's seat were among the things that adorned the bus. Purple ribbons, 32 of them, filling almost half of the seats, represent those who lived through the accident. Black ribbons memorialize McLaughlin, 44, and Liebelt.

There is no marking for Cool.

"The union made the decision to leave (Cool's) seat unmarked out of respect and sensitivity for Mark," said Metro driver Patricia Naumann.

The memorial bus was followed by a vintage red Metro bus carrying McLaughlin's family and Samet. A third bus carried local officials.

We're all vulnerable

"It's a very sad day," said King County Councilman Greg Nichols. "Whenever someone is in public service, they put themselves on the line. And a senseless crime like this shows how vulnerable we all are.'

Yesterday, Naumann called McLaughlin "a unique and wonderful man. But he also represents each one of us."

"Every one of us knows that, as unbelievable as it seems, that could have happened to us. The door opens to everyone - that's part of what's wonderful about mass transit. But you never know who will get on.

"There's a paradox to the job we do," Naumann added. "We are always moving, but we're stationary. We see lots of money, but we never touch a penny. We deal with hundreds of people, but no one knows our names. It's a humble, self-effacing job, but it carries a tremendous responsibility. What happened to Mark is every driver's nightmare."

Union organized service

The procession and service were organized by the transit union. Larry Montgomery, an executive member of the union, said it wanted to show that it "is not just about work and grievances and labor-management issues. It's about what we can do working together to support one another."

Chiefly, he said, the event was planned as a tribute to McLaughlin, a Metro driver since 1979, and as a memorial to McLaughlin and Liebelt.

Another important goal, Montgomery said, was to thank police and fire crews and good Samaritans who helped the accident victims. Save taxi receipts

Metro said passengers unable to reach their destination through their regular bus service between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. today will be reimbursed for taxi fare.

Spokesman Dan Williams said passengers must save their receipts and submit them to Metro.

Sims apologized for the inconvenience. "We ask for the public's understanding as we allow our employees to attend the service for a colleague and friend. This is like a death in the family," he said, adding that the service, "will help us all bring closure to a tragedy."

As part of the memorial, King County has announced plans to retire the number 359 as a route designation.