Richard Lenhart, a 72-year-old school bus driver for Pasco School District in Washington state, was stabbed to death by an intruder while elementary students were also on board.
According to the Pasco Police Department, the assault occurred Friday near Longfellow Elementary School. As Lenhart was preparing to transport 35 students home, Joshua Davis, 34, approached the stopped bus just after students finished boarding.
Lenhart reportedly reopened the doors, presumably to see what Davis wanted, the police stated. Davis then allegedly boarded the bus seemingly empty handed, to ask if the bus went to Road 100.
When Lenhart responded that the bus does not go to Road 100, Davis turned to leave. However, police said that at that point he allegedly produced a knife, turned back and attacked Lenhart, who was belted into his seat. The attack and ensuing struggle caused Lenhart’s foot to come off the brake, sending the bus forward over a curb and into a sign. The bus came to a complete stop only after it struck landscaping and a tree.
Police stated that Davis then stopped the attack and jumped off the moving bus as it approached the tree.
The encounter took place on an active street in the middle of the afternoon, in view of others, the police said.
Davis reportedly had driven to the scene in a private vehicle, parked nearby and approached the area of the school on foot. He returned to the scene when police officers started arriving. Davis was quickly pointed out by bystanders and arrested without incident.
Lenhart was left severely injured, though he was still responsive to witnesses, officers and medics while at the scene. He was transported to a regional trauma center, where he later died from his injuries.
“We can take some small comfort in the knowledge that Lenhart was aware that the children left in his charge were safe and being cared for after the attack,” a Pasco police release stated.
No students suffered physical injuries.
Investigators are currently unaware of any connection between the victim and the attacker. “At this preliminary point in the investigation, the ‘why’ would be speculation,” Pasco Police stated.
Davis was booked into Franklin County Jail on an investigative hold for first degree murder. He remains in custody. Davis had previous contact with law enforcement, the most recent encounter being in 2019.
Pasco School District is offering counseling to the students, as well as to transportation staff who have been affected by this sudden loss. “It is with a heavy heart that I write to you this evening,” Pasco School District Superintendent Michelle Whitney stated on the district website. “Pasco Police Department shared information at a press conference earlier tonight that one of our bus drivers was assaulted today and died from his injuries. We are devastated by the tragic loss of one of our own. Our focus right now is on supporting our students and staff who are deeply impacted by this tragedy.”
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School Transportation News has reported on two other instances of a school bus driver being murdered while in the line of duty.
In 2013, Charles “Chuck” Poland of Dale County Schools in Alabama, was shot multiple times while attempting to shield a busload of students from armed trespasser Jimmy Lee Dykes. Dykes reportedly boarded the bus illegally as it stopped near his home and demanded two male students. Dykes shot Poland for not complying with his orders. Following the incident, Dykes abducted a 5-year-old boy and held him hostage for nearly a week in an unground bunker before the FBI overran the bunker, shot and killed Dykes, and rescued the boy.
An earlier incident occurred in 2005, when school bus driver Joyce Gregory of Stewart County Schools in Tennessee was shot and killed behind the wheel by student Jason Clinard. Clinard, 14 at the time, reportedly shot Gregory because she reported him to school administrators for using smokeless tobacco on the bus and suspending his bus riding privilege.