Longtime Maryland Transit Administration bus driver Marcus Parks was gunned down and killed after arguing with a man Thursday morning in Southeast Baltimore, police and state officials said.
The brazen, midmorning killing rattled a busy commuter corridor and left Baltimore leaders again frustrated by violence in the city. Tensions have flared up on MTA buses in the past. Last March, an argument led a rider to allegedly shoot another bus driver in his chest.
Parks’ killing caused the bus drivers' union to demand better protection for its members. In a statement, John Costa, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union, urged federal lawmakers to pass legislation requiring municipalities develop plans to improve bus safety and submit them for federal approval.
A 20-year veteran of the MTA, Parks had stopped his bus Thursday around 10:30 a.m. to let off all the passengers in the 1200 block of E. Fayette St. at the edge of the Jonestown neighborhood. That’s when the gunman approached and tried to board, said Detective Donny Moses, a police spokesman.
When Parks refused, the gunman grabbed Parks’ bag and took off. Parks gave chase and the man pulled out a gun and opened fire, Moses said.
A nearby police officer heard the gunfire and chased Parks' killer. But the officer wasn’t able to catch him.
When the first shots rang out, Teddy Knight looked up from where he sat on a nearby bench to see a man tumble over a playground fence at the Ronald McDonald House Charities. The man was pursued by someone else with a gun.
“He tumbled, and that was it. He didn’t move,” Knight said. “He was laying there and the guy came back and shot him again.”
The killer stood over the man and shot him several more times, Knight said. Then the gunman took off running with a big black bag behind the Ronald McDonald House, he said. Knight saw a bystander rush to help the wounded man and begin chest compression.
Police have not released a description of the killer. Parks, 51, died at the scene.
Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young on Twitter Thursday evening called Parks a “personal friend.”
Parks “will be remembered as a dedicated public servant and a true hero to the residents of Baltimore City,” Young wrote. “My thoughts and prayers are with his family during this difficult time. May his memory be a blessing.”
A big, athletic man, Parks dressed sharply for his appointments with his longtime doctor at the Johns Hopkins Hospital.
“He cut quite a figure,” said Dr. Albert Wu, who’s married to a Baltimore Sun editor. “He’s not someone to pick a fight by any means, but he did have a strong sense of propriety and doing the right thing.”
Parks came from a big family and spoke proudly of his three sons and career as a bus driver, Wu recalled.
“He said, you know it can be stressful. It can be a hassle. But it’s a worthwhile thing to be doing,” his doctor said.
Within hours of Parks' death, state and city leaders were expressing their frustration at the violence.
“Mr. Parks was a true frontline hero transporting essential workers during this COVID-19 health emergency,” MTA Administrator Kevin Quinn said in a statement. “MDOT MTA is forever grateful for his commitment to the residents of Baltimore.”
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said he was praying for Parks' family and pledged full support to help police catch the killer.
“We are horrified by the senseless killing of a [MTA] bus operator this morning — one of our frontline essential workers who was just doing his job,” Hogan wrote in a tweet.
Baltimore continues to suffer from rampant gun violence. According to police statistics, the city has seen 256 homicides so far this year — only a slight decrease from 262 during the same period last year. A bloody 2019 brought the grim record of 57 killings per 100,000 people, the city’s worst homicide rate on record.
“Our bus drivers have been our heroes during COVID. Today one of those heroes was taken,” City Council President Brandon Scott wrote in a statement. “We must and will develop a strategy to deal w/ violent offenders & the flow of illegal guns into our city. We must also create a culture where folks don’t turn to violence to settle conflicts.”
Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat, expressed similar frustrations Thursday.
“This is the height of cowardice and disregard for human life,” Ferguson said in a statement. “There must be swift and certain consequences for violence like this, there cannot be excuses.”
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Parks was just the latest MTA bus driver attacked on the job, and bus drivers and union leaders continue to express concern about their safety. State officials track assaults against drivers, and the statistics vary from one or two attacks to as many as nine a month.
In Washington, the drivers' union has lobbied for the Transit Worker and Pedestrian Protection Act to establish safer conditions for bus drivers. In addition to requiring safety plans, the bill would force municipalities to install barriers to protect drivers.
“Transit workers cannot do their job, and passengers cannot travel on public transportation in fear of being attacked and assaulted," said Costa, of the Amalgamated Transit Union.
Last March in Baltimore, a 30-year-old bus driver was shot in his chest and seriously wounded after an argument with a passenger. Police have said the driver and passenger argued before the passenger demanded to be let off the bus.
The passenger stepped off at the next scheduled stop, turned back and fired one shot at the driver, then ran away, police said.
A week later, U.S. Marshals arrested James Grimes, 26, in Ohio and charged him with the shooting. Grimes remains held without bail on charges of attempted murder. He’s scheduled for trial in January.
Baltimore Sun reporter Colin Campbell contributed to this article.