Shuttle driver allegedly called racial slurs; Student punched in his defense

The UMass Lowell shuttles operate from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on most weekends. (Taylor Carito/Connector)

Taylor Carito & Chris Romano
Connector Staff

Shuttle driver Daniel Denis Prophete was working the yellow-line night shift, along with his co-driver and other passengers when a group of students became belligerent. This resulted in two abrupt stops on the shuttle between the downtown and East Campus stops and police involvement.

On the night of Feb. 24, Prophete and his co-driver were victims of and witnesses to an investigation involving a group of six or eight allegedly drunk students saying racial slurs and using vulgar language directed at Prophete. A student was also physically assaulted by the accused group.

Christine Gillette, the director of media relations for UMass Lowell, released a statement saying, “The university vehemently opposes any behavior that is contrary to our efforts to ensure an inclusive campus community for all. A thorough investigation is being conducted into this report to determine the facts and appropriate action will be taken in response to any violations of the law or the student conduct code.”

That night, Prophete was driving his shuttle along with a co-driver when he pulled up to the downtown stop to pick up students who had been presumably been at the bars and restaurants in the surrounding area.

“We had a pick up downtown because somebody called it in. As I got to the downtown stop, there was this kid, about 5-feet-7-inches. He was smoking with his friends and he was calling his friends onto the shuttle,” Prophete said. “Some of them had IDs, some of them didn’t …I let them on because I knew some of them weren’t in their right minds.”

Just a few blocks from where Prophete picked up the students, he said he began to smell cigarette smoke. He said to himself, “That shouldn’t smell so strong.” He said his first reaction was to stop the shuttle to address and resolve the situation.

Prophete told the students to get off the shuttle. They refused, trying to guilt Prophete, who said the group of students claimed they would get mugged if they were left on the side street. The shuttle had not left the downtown area yet and was stopped on John Street, which is located near Lowell High School. He also instructed the co-driver to call the UMass Lowell Police Department.

“I could already feel that it was going to be an issue,” Prophete said.

The police arranged to meet Prophete on East Campus and handle the situation there, but matters only got worse once the shuttle continued on from John St., he said. Prophete drove slowly once he left the location to ensure that he would not beat the police to the East Campus stop. He wanted to give the police time to get there so these students would be reprimanded and not leave the shuttle. This apparently agitated the group of allegedly drunk students.

Prophete said he heard what he referred to as the “n-word” directed at him from the person behind him. He later discovered that the unacceptable language was originating from others toward the back from the same group of students who smoked cigarettes. The student behind him was defending the shuttle driver, telling the group in the back to stop using the obscene language. “The person behind me said the word, and I just thought ‘yeah I can’t do this anymore,’” Prophete said. He stopped near Wannalancit Mills, where Prophete again told the students to get off the shuttle.

The group of students behind him continued to stand up for the driver, which Prophete said resulted in one of them getting physically assaulted by the other group that was smoking the cigarettes prior. The student allegedly called the group ignorant prior to the assault.

The student who was assaulted remained on the shuttle, but Prophete said the group continued to taunt the student. “One of the guys was banging on the windows saying ‘come get it.’ I thought he was directing it at me, but he was talking to the kid behind me,” said Prophete.

More vulgar names and curse words were said toward Prophete and the other students from the accused group. They eventually walked away toward East Campus, but four of them were intercepted by the police.

Once all students were off the shuttle, Prophete went back to University Crossing, but the co-driver filed the report because Prophete said he was still processing the events of the evening.

Prophete said he does not know any of the passengers personally. He has not had contact with the police but has been in communication with his manager at Transportation Services and with Student Conduct.

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