Sandwich leads to verbal fireworks on Pierce Transit bus

TACOMA, Wash. -- A Tacoma woman claims two bites of her breakfast sandwich led to a humiliating and frightening encounter with a Pierce Transit bus driver.

Bus rider Jessica Piller said she was sick and just trying to finish her sandwich Friday morning when a bus driver verbally attacked her in front of other passengers.

Pierce Transit officials say the bus driver was simply enforcing the "no food" rule. They also say the the driver was the one who was verbally abused.

"While my mouth's full I'm saying 'I'm sick. I'm just trying to finish these two bites, just let me finish these two bites,'" Piller said of the Friday morning confrontation.

Piller said the driver overreacted, yelling at her to put the food away. She said she didn't know about the no-food rule and thought it would be OK to eat the last few bites of the sandwich. It turns out that wasn't the case, she said.

"He's yelling as he's walking toward me, 'I told you to put that away. You're supposed to put that away," she said. "And he said, 'That's it. Get off the bus.'"

Piller admits she responded strongly and cussed at the driver.

"I had a few choice words for him, but he had taken away my dignity at that point and embarrassed me," she said.

Transit officials say the rules of the bus are mandatory, and the driver didn't actually remove Piller because she was eating, but because she was disruptive during the verbal exchange.

Some of her fellow bus riders are taking Piller's side.

"Stupid, plain and simple," one rider said. "Why would you kick a person off for eating two bites of a sandwich?"

Pierce Transit officials say they've received Piller's complaint and will "will follow-up with her concern regarding this particular employee's behavior and overall response to the incident," according to a statement.

For now, Piller is refusing to take the bus and said she'd rather ride her bike the 10 miles to her job as an admission coordinator at Western State Hospital.

"We are riding this bus. We are customers, and we should be treated with respect," she said.

A transit police officer did give Piller a ride to work after she was kicked off the bus. She said she plans on taking her complaint to city, county and even state officials.