Murder on the B46: Three Years Gone

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Three years after Edwin Thomas was murdered on the B46 in broad daylight, his family mourns his death. (Photos: Anna Hiatt/The Brooklyn Ink)

 

The service begins at 4:30 p.m. as the December sun creeps lower in the sky. Bus drivers and passersby are bundled in jackets, scarves and hats, and they gather in a tight crowd around the four members of the Thomas family at the B46 bus stop on Malcolm X Boulevard and Gates Avenue in Flatbush. Someone passes out white vigil candles, and the bitter wind makes them hard to light.

Wallace Thomas stands in front of a flower arrangement made of white tiger lilies and white roses and tied with a white sash. His long graying dreadlocks fall around his shoulders. Next to him is Frantz Thomas, his brother, whose Yankee cap is pulled low. Frantz rests his hands on his mother, Marie Josette Nerette’s, shoulders. Edley Thomas, their niece and granddaughter, stands to the side, quietly leaning against the wall, vigil candle in hand. Wallace begins to talk about his brother, his voice cracks and tears run down his face. People in the crowd call out, “We’re all with you, brother.” Wallace steps back, unable to finish his sentence.

When Frantz moves in front of the NY1 television cameras, he pulls a bandanna over his face, holds a vigil candle in one hand and clutches under his arm the Bible that Transport Workers Union Local 100 gave his mother in memory of her slain son. Frantz says he still dreams of him. “Things haven’t been the same since my brother died.”

While her uncles and grandmother speak, Edley gazes at the flame.

 ***

The back doors of the B46 bus open just before noon at the stop on Utica Avenue between Saint John’s Place and Sterling Place, and Horace Moore boards. It is Dec. 1, 2008. Moore swipes an invalid MetroCard and, though he doesn’t pay the fare, the bus driver doesn’t hassle him.

At his stop on Malcolm X Boulevard and Gates Avenue, Moore demands a two-dollar bus transfer. When the driver refuses, citing the unpaid fare, it begins. Moore flies into an inexplicable rage, punching the driver’s head, grabbing a transfer and turning to flee the bus.

The driver stands to follow the delinquent passenger while more than a dozen other riders watch from their seats. He moves to the steps of his bus, making as if he’ll follow, but quickly returns to his seat behind the steering wheel. For a moment, it seems the incident is over. But Moore returns, rushing back onto the bus and toward the driver.

 ***

Horace Moore (Source: Brooklyn Supreme Court)

Horace Moore is no stranger to the criminal justice system. In December 2002, when he was just 14 years old, Moore was accused of robbery. The court withdrew the case and sealed the record; the charge isn’t on his rap sheet. His criminal record begins in February 2003 when he was convicted and put on 18 months probation for armed robbery. He violated that probation in July and was sent to juvenile detention after police caught him carrying a loaded revolver.

Moore was arrested again in 2005 and charged with sexual misconduct and failure to exercise control of a minor after he was found to have been sexually involved with a 13-year-old. Moore was 17 when he pled guilty to one count of endangering the welfare of a child, but he spent no time in detention. The court proceedings for that charge were still in progress in April 2006 when Moore was arrested after he stabbed and nearly killed a teenage boy. Moore was convicted of attempted murder in the second degree, sentenced to one to three years in lockup and sent to juvenile detention.

That year Imani, his daughter, was born.

In a letter to the court dated October 2010, Anne Marie Campbell, Moore’s mother, wrote that her son hadn’t always been a troublemaker. The streets had turned her “quiet, soft spoken and respectful” son into an “angry, impatient person.” But Moore was humbled by his daughter’s birth, Campbell wrote, and after he was released on parole Feb. 26, 2008, he got a job. He attended anger management classes, and from what she could tell, her son was headed in a new direction. But starting in April, he was once again unemployed.

That July, according to court records, Moore violated parole when he was caught carrying a knife longer than four inches. The justice ordered his release and promised to drop the charge within six months if he stayed out of trouble.

Five months later, on the morning of Dec. 1, Moore boarded the B46 bus and didn’t pay the fare.

***

Edwin Thomas (Source: Edley Thomas)

Edwin Thomas had been a bus driver in New York City for seven years. Thomas, who was born in Haiti Sept. 12, 1962, had four siblings: three brothers, Wallace, Frantz and Didelot, and a sister, Sylvie. The family moved to Brooklyn in 1981. In 1990, Edwin had a son, Jeffrey, with his then-wife, Suze Jupiter.

They  divorced, and soon after Edwin got together with Esther Derose, his best friend growing up in Haiti. In 1992, the couple had a daughter, Edley. She and Jeffrey, her half-brother, looked so similar—so like their father—that they were often mistaken for full siblings. Jeffrey would spend summers with Edley, their father and her mother, but the kids didn’t know each other well growing up. Edley’s parents separated in 2001 when she was 11 and shortly after her father married a woman named Maggy.

In the mid 1990s Edwin took a job at the post office. But in 2001 when traces of white powder, confirmed to be anthrax, began appearing in envelopes in and around the Washington, D.C. area, Thomas quit. The job wasn’t worth risking his life, he decided. That October he started training with the Metropolitan Transit Authority.

All his life, Edwin had loved driving. He collected toy cars and took his BMW to work at the Flatbush bus depot. And nearly every job he had, Edwin got to be behind the wheel. Before he drove a bus, Edwin drove a cab. He moved on to working as an MTA coin collector and security guard back when buses and subways used tokens.

As a bus driver, Edwin worked as many hours as he could, always putting in overtime. He drove out of the Flatbush bus depot, where the routes are particularly notorious for fare dodgers and antagonistic riders, Flatbush bus drivers said at the memorial. Edwin’s regular route was the B46 which begins at Marine Park and runs along Malcolm X Boulevard, Utica Avenue, Flatbush Avenue, up to Broadway, traveling through neighborhoods with high crime rates including Flatlands, East Flatbush, Bedford-Stuyvesant and Bushwick. The bus route ends at Washington-Williamsburg Bridge Plaza. Like all MTA drivers, Thomas was trained to remind a passenger only once to pay the fare. But if a passenger refuses, drivers are supposed to avoid confrontation and let him ride for free. In the days after Thomas’ death, articles in The New York Times reported that along dangerous routes, like the B46, some bus drivers go a step further and hand out transfers to fare dodgers to protect themselves from assault. Maybe things would have been different had Thomas given Moore a transfer.

***

In a flash Moore races back onto the bus and plunges the knife into Thomas. He stabs him three times aiming for the bus driver’s stomach and heart. When the knife finds flesh, Moore twists.

And then Moore turns and flees.

 

In Memory of Edwin Thomas (Photo: Anna Hiatt/The Brooklyn Ink; Source: Edley Thomas)

 

Reggie Green was doing errands on Malcolm X Boulevard when he saw a woman running out of the B46 bus and screaming for somebody to call 911. He looked in and saw Thomas slumped down in the driver’s seat. He wasn’t moving.

EMTs arrived on the scene and took Thomas out of the bus. He was lying on a gurney parked on the sidewalk when Dalila Benkerroum, who had moved into an apartment just above the B46 stop that summer, came outside to see what had happened. While EMTs were on the bus she walked over to Thomas, looked into his eyes; he looked back. She saw his chest moving up and down. There was an oxygen mask covering his mouth so he couldn’t speak, but his uniform shirt was open and she could see his stab wound—a few inches long, a few inches deep. He was still alive when the ambulance drove away.

Thomas was transported to Woodhull Hospital where he was pronounced dead at 1:11 p.m. of cardiac arrest brought on by the stab wounds. He was 46.

Someone tipped off the police later that day about what Moore had done and where to find him. Just before midnight on Dec. 1, police showed up at Moore’s house at 1327 Park Place in Brooklyn and took him into custody.

In his first statement to police, Moore, who was still on parole for his attempted murder conviction, denied being on the bus. He claimed to have been at a friend’s house smoking marijuana all day, until the police came to arrest him. Around noon Dec. 2, three witnesses to the murder came to the precinct to identify Moore. Two picked him out of a lineup. The third did not.

After the lineups, Moore gave a second statement and admitted to riding the bus. But he said a friend from the street, whose name he didn’t know, had stabbed the driver. Just after 4 p.m., in a third statement, Moore changed his story again and this time he admitted to killing Thomas.

“I thought I only stabbed him one time,” Moore said in the statement to police. “I don’t have no intention. It just went bad.”

 ***

It was the first time in more than 27 years that a New York City bus driver had been killed. On Oct. 10, 1981 Harvey Shild, 28, was shot while driving the B44 in Brooklyn for refusing to give a passenger a transfer. Considering how unprotected bus drivers are, murder is relatively rare.

Abuse, however, is not. Bus drivers regularly withstand verbal or physical abuse, from spit to beatings. In the years since Thomas’ death the MTA has begun retrofitting buses with protective barricades. Over the summer a female bus driver in the Bronx was severely beaten by a passenger with a dog whom she wouldn’t let on the bus.

***

Nearly two years after Thomas’ death, on Sept. 27, 2010, the trial began. The district attorney needed to prove only intent; two video surveillance tapes—one from Saint John’s Place and Utica Avenue, the other from Sterling Place and Utica Avenue—showed Moore boarding Thomas’ B46 bus, according to court files. Two witnesses identified him in the lineup. And Moore, who had waived his right to a jury trial, had confessed in a written statement to police.

James Koenig, Moore’s attorney, reasoned that anger management problems caused Moore to lose control. Julie Rendelman, an assistant district attorney, argued that Moore’s criminal history proved his time in the penal system had not rehabilitated him and that he would continue to be a violent threat.

But it was Moore himself who provided the prosecution with the evidence of intent needed for a murder conviction. In May 2009, incarcerated while awaiting trial on Rikers Island, Moore was recorded talking on the phone with a group of friends about the day Thomas died. During the call, Moore recalled getting a ride home from two brothers and confiding to them, and only them, what he had done. “I never told nobody ‘bout nothing except dumb niggas in the car,” Moore said. One of the brothers had to have told police where to find him, he said. No one else, apart from his girlfriend, whom he called “that bitch,” knew where he lived. When the callers suggested his girlfriend could have told police, Moore replied she didn’t know anything until police picked him up that night.

He angrily called the brothers “fucking snitches” and said, his voice rising, that they were the only people who knew where he was and what he had done. “If I ever come out you remember that,” Moore said. “You know me, B.” The caller insisted, almost pleaded, that he didn’t know who talked with police. “It wasn’t me that gave you up,” the caller said. But Moore’s words came out fast and furious as laid out his verdict: Whoever snitched would pay.

“It’s not enough if you beat them up,” Moore said. “I don’t want that nigger around.”

 

Edley and her father (Source: Edley Thomas)

 

On Oct. 19, Justice Gustin Reichbach delivered his verdict: Moore was guilty of murder in the second degree.

In the days before sentencing, Rendelman wrote a letter to the justice petitioning that Moore’s extensive criminal history and escalating violent behavior warranted the harshest prison sentence: a minimum of 25 years. Moore’s mother also wrote to the justice and apologized for what her son had done and said that the “unfortunate incident” could have been avoided, although she didn’t say how. Campbell closed her letter asking the justice to consider Moore’s children.

On the day he was sentenced Moore wore black-rimmed glasses and an olive-colored button-up shirt to court. He sat low in his seat at the defendant’s table, covered his face occasionally and apologized to the Thomas family for what he had done. Edley sat on the other side of the courtroom at the plaintiff’s table. “You took his life cold-blooded,” she said to Moore in court on the day he was sentenced. She mourned that her father would not get to see her graduate from high school. “December 1st of 2008 was the worst day of my life.” Later she recalled thinking about how short Moore was compared to her father, who was well above six feet and sturdily built.

In the courtroom sat bus drivers, reporters and Thomas’ family. “This was a dastardly act of unprovoked violence,” Justice Reichbach read aloud. “But it is also clear that this was not a premeditated act, Horace Moore didn’t wake up that fateful morning bent on homicide.”

He continued, “Who the defendant is today does not necessarily dictate who he will be when he is in his fifties.” He sentenced Moore to 20 years to life—instead of 25—with the possibility of parole.

The bus drivers held up two-dollar transfers as Moore was led from the courtroom.

”Justice did not prevail for us as bus drivers,” one told a reporter outside the courtroom. “They are wrong. They ripped us off.”

But after her father’s convicted killer had been led away, Edley struck a different tone. The anger she had felt toward Moore, she told reporters outside the courtroom, had turned into pity. She said she’d forgiven Moore because nothing would bring her father back. But her brother Jeffrey, who hadn’t been able to muster the strength to speak in court, said Moore had deserved the electric chair.

Now, two years later, Moore is in Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, NY. He will not be eligible for parole until he is 40 in 2028. By his first parole hearing, he will have spent more of his life behind bars than he has on the outside. But for the family of Edwin Thomas, the pain endures.

***

Edley said her last goodbye to her father at a traffic light on the B46 route the day he died. She and her mother, who died August 2011, were headed to a doctor’s appointment before school when her father’s bus drove by. Thomas honked the bus horn to say “hi,” as he always did.

Edley went to school that day and then to cheerleading practice that afternoon. She looked at her phone after practice and saw that she had missed a flurry of calls from unfamiliar numbers. She finally picked up a call from her cousin. She said only “Your dad got stabbed,” and then hung up. Edley panicked. She tried calling around, but now no one would pick up. The only thing she could think, she said, was “I need to find my father.”

As she and Jessica, her best friend since sixth grade, rode the B69 bus home together, Jessica tried to tell Edley her father would be okay. But Edley feared the worst. She shook her head and said, “There’s nothing in me that’s telling me my dad’s okay. He’s gone.” Edley met her mother at the McDonald’s near their old home on Eastern Parkway after 6 p.m. that evening. When Edley saw her mother drop to her knees sobbing in front of the McDonald’s, she knew her father had died. “I thought nothing would ever happen to my mother and father,” she says.

 

Memorial Flowers (Photo: Anna Hiatt/The Brooklyn Ink; Source: Edley Thomas)

The memorial floral arrangement has been moved fifty feet or so to the bus stop on Malcolm X Boulevard where the map of the B46 route that Edwin drove is posted. The little white vigil candles have burned down to stumps. Edley stands next to the flowers and in front of a crowd of well-wishers. She focuses on her hands and cleans off the dried candle wax that has dripped on her skin. Her eyes well up with tears when people speak of her father. Her uncle Wallace wraps his arm around her shoulder and pulls her in close. As though in tribute, B46 buses begin backing up; in both directions five sit bumper-to-bumper, at the now-memorialized bus stop. Passengers sit on board and peer curiously out at the gathering of mourners.

When the memorial ends, the Edwin Thomas’ survivors mingle and accept good wishes from his co-workers, who mourn Edwin’s death three years later as though it happened yesterday; from neighbors who saw the police tape the day Edwin was killed; and from members of the T.W.U., who called the Flatbush bus drivers “warriors.” Wallace hugs everyone he talks with, but Frantz is reserved and stays off to the side. A number of Edwin’s family members haven’t come, Wallace says. His brother’s death divided the family in a dispute over money, but Wallace does not elaborate. He shakes his head in disgust. Frantz is still holding his candle, now melted down to a stump, and clutches his brother’s Bible under his arm. He points to the relatives he still calls family: his mother, Wallace and Edley. That’s all, he says, then turns away.

***

Where she once had a heart, Edley says she now has a hole. Part of her heart died the day her father was murdered and the rest was killed when her mother died of a stroke just a few months ago in August. After Thomas’ murder, Edley says she withdrew from her friends. “A lot of people don’t hear from me anymore. Not the way they used to.”

She and her mother didn’t accept help from friends and neighbors. No one made them food or helped with chores. Her mother thought it best that way. “Nobody understands,” Edley says. “People think they understand, but they don’t.”

She will turn 20 in January. When her mother died, friends and relatives advised her to  delay starting college. But her father had wanted her to get an education, so this fall she started her freshman year at Hofstra University in the Village of Hempstead in Long Island, where she’s studying criminal justice. Edley had turned down living in the dorms to stay at home with her mother, but when Esther died, Edley moved in with her great aunt in Flatbush.

Three years have passed, but Edley thinks about her father’s death every day. “I’ll never stop grieving,” she says. She doesn’t dream about him, nor does she hear his voice. But she does remember the way he loved her. Edley stands quietly in the room she shares with her cousins, at the foot of a queen-sized bed, and pulls out a treasure box where she stores letters and keepsakes and photographs. Quietly she places baby pictures with her parents on the rose pink comforter. Images from her communion when she was 11 and pictures with her father when she was just a baby lay scattered around her cat Lola, who sleeps at the foot of the bed.

***

Evidence presented during the trial has imprinted in her mind scenes of the violence of her father’s death. She can recount details of what she never saw. His head, she says, was shaved bald the day Moore punched him. She reasons that if he’d let his hair grow longer, maybe he wouldn’t have been so stunned by the blow. She knows how many steps her father walked down the aisle to follow Moore after he left the driver’s seat: two. She believes that when Moore plunged his knife into her father’s chest and abdomen, he was aiming to kill. Had her father survived, Edley heard the medical examiner say, the injuries he sustained would have paralyzed him.

But she has another memory of her father, one less gruesome and one wholly her own. Her father always carried cologne with him. He stored it under the driver’s seat of his BMW and of his bus. As she remembers his smell, her lips turn upwards in a smile and her voice slows down and goes quiet. She will never meet a man who smells as sweet as her father did.

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3 Responses to “Murder on the B46: Three Years Gone”

  1. Michael Zagaris
    December 21, 2011 at 1:25 AM #

    I felt as though I was there that day…on the bus…as a passenger, as the driver, as the perp with the knife. The day and it’s aftermath is a movie. How the action of one man affected so many lives adversely …Like a gritty black and white movie of New York. A modern day version of the mid 60’s movie “The Pawnbroker” in feel…in despair
    What fine working, first finding the people, then getting them to open up…and finally incorporating it all into a “can’t stop reading” narrative

  2. Jose Lugo
    December 21, 2011 at 11:41 AM #

    Wow THANK YOU!!!! I’m his coworker who knew him & shared many laughs & stories with him. It still hurts to know how he was killed……

  3. Anna Hiatt
    December 22, 2011 at 12:26 AM #

    Hi Jose, You and I met at the memorial on Dec. 8. Thank you for reading! All my best, Anna

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