Coach Operator Donald Latimore has a special radar when it comes to kids and safety.
“I can’t help it—I’m a dad,” he smiles with a shrug. “My son Damarian is 3-years-old right now. I also used to drive school buses for First Student and Durham and worked for a while as campus security for Rialto Unified School District. You learn to pay attention.”
Recently, when he was driving the Route 8 along Lugonia in the evening, he was startled to see someone run into the middle of the street and attempt to flag down passing cars.
“I wasn’t sure what was going on,” Donald says. “At first I was worried it was a drug addict or something, and there was no way I was going to get involved. Suddenly he jumped in front of my bus, waving his arms, and I was forced to stop. I could see that it’s this kid about 14 or 15-years old. He looked absolutely terrified and was crying hysterically. I had a gut feeling that he wasn’t a threat. There was something was seriously wrong though, and he needed help. When you’ve worked with kids as long as I have, you have a pretty good instinct when someone is safe. So when he came to the side, I opened the door.”
Shaking and in tears, the boy explained that a group of kids had ganged up on him and tried to rob him. One of them had a gun and demanded that he turn over his cell phone. Afraid for his life, the boy had run into the street in a desperate attempt to get help.
Donald didn’t hesitate. “Get in!” he told the boy, quickly scanning the area for signs of the attackers. He saw a group of shadowy figures near the side of the road.
“Come on, kid—get in here NOW!” urgently echoed an older gentleman seated near the front of the bus.
The boy boarded, and Donald closed the door and pulled ahead. His priority now was to transport both the kid and his passengers away from the scene as safely and quickly as possible. “My original plan was to drop him off at the Sheriff’s station in Yucaipa, so I’d know he was safe,” said Donald. “But the kid was able to reach his mom, who arranged to pick him up at a service station along Sand Canyon in Yucaipa. I was just glad I was there to help.”
This month, Donald was honored with the Omnitrans Top G.E.M. Award for his actions in going the extra mile to help someone in distress. Although he simply could have refused to get involved, his attentiveness, compassion and quick thinking in this unusual situation ensured the boy’s safety and prevented what could have been a dangerous altercation.
Donald isn’t easily fazed by the unexpected. He likes dealing with different passengers every day and enjoys the diversity. “I run a good coach,” he says proudly. “I get along with everybody, no matter who they are. I speak to each person who boards my bus, and I treat them with respect. If you don’t give it, you don’t get it. Respect has to be earned.”
He admits that occasionally he deals with people who can be a challenge. But again, his security training serves him well. “My goal is always to de-escalate every situation. If you remain calm, polite and treat people with respect, they generally respond. The way I look at it, we all have our bad days. If I can be friendly and give a smile and great service to someone who is having a bad day, they tend to remember that next time.”
Donald feels the camaraderie and support he gets from his co-workers also helps a lot. “I love being an Omnitrans Coach Operator better than any other job I’ve had,” he says. “I enjoy the work and I really like the family setting. People here are friendly and look out for you. It’s a great environment with a lot of opportunity for advancement.”
Eventually, Donald would like to enlist in the Marine Corp. He also hopes to go back to school and study to be a U.S. Marshall or a parole office. In his free time he loves going for long rides on his Suzuki street bike.
– Juno Kughler Carlson
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