NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork) – A New Jersey Transit bus driver accused of dragging a passenger who later died pleaded not guilty Monday.
Prosecutors say 34-year-old Fayola Howard ignored the victim’s screams for help and witnesses’ pleas to stay on the scene.
“This is a rather horrific, horrific incident that took place,” Judge Ronald D. Wigler said during her court appearance.
Prosecutors say Howard, who has been a bus driver for more than five years, was behind the wheel on December 31 when 55-year-old Kevin Thomas was caught in the door and dragged.
It started when he and a friend on board the bus noticed a woman get off at a stop and leave behind a purse. They ran off the bus to return it.
Thomas’ friend got back on the bus, but when he tried to go through the front door, Howard allegedly closed it and drove away with his arm trapped.
“He’s running basically full speed alongside this bus. As the bus turns right in front of him, he falls to the ground and is run over by the back tires,” said the prosecutor.
“I guess no good deed goes unpunished,” Judge Wigler added. “Passengers on the bus were yelling at you to stop the bus. Mr. Thomas was yelling for you to stop the bus. Yet you did not stop the bus. It’s perplexing as to why you would not stop. But you didn’t, you kept going.”
Thomas died a week later.
Prosecutors noted several failed attempts to reach Howard, resulting in her arrest last week at Newark Liberty International Airport while she was boarding a plane to Trinidad. Her attorney said the trip was planned before the incident.
“Fayola decided to travel not to relax, not to go on vacation, but to be with those closest to her so she can deal with what, for her, is a very upsetting and troubling event,” said her lawyer.
Howard was charged with vehicular homicide and leaving the scene of an accident resulting in death.
The judge said there’s no way of knowing whether or not she would return, announcing she will be detained pending the outcome of the case, resulting in an emotional courtroom.
Family on both sides did not want to speak Monday, but one community member told CBS2’s Jenna DeAngelis, “She just kept going.”
“She heard the man screaming and yelling ‘stop the bus,’ everybody was telling her to stop the bus, and she wouldn’t stop the bus. I just feel like she got what she deserved to be detained,” Gloria Easterling said.
NJ Transit officials said once they learned of the allegations against Howard, she was removed from service.
She has no prior criminal record, is being held behind bars and is due back in court on March 20.