‘I just did it,’ Lynx driver says of rescue
Published: May 8, 2007 | 6169th good news item since 2003
Lynx bus driver Pat Ward still doesn’t know why she hit the brakes and jumped off her bus in the predawn darkness to chase away a man pulling a woman into the bushes. But she’s glad she didn’t stop to think.
Without concern for her safety, the 54-year-old driver launched her 5-foot, 2-inch frame through the bus doors and charged down a path, shouting at the man to stop and telling her passengers to call 911.
“I just acted on instinct,” said Ward, who has no security training and was not carrying a weapon, pepper spray or a flashlight.
Only later did she think about the fact she was unarmed, untrained and unsure of what she was going to do. “I just did it.”
But the Seminole County woman apparently broke up the attempted kidnapping near Kirkman and Conroy roads just north of the Universal Studios theme park area Sunday morning. The victim was waiting for the bus to take her to work at a nearby hotel.
“It was a courageous, selfless act,” Lynx spokesman Matt Friedman said.
Ward, who has been driving for the public bus agency for two years, was on the Link 21 route by chance. She’s a fill-in driver who usually drives a different route every day.
Ward said she could hardly believe what she was seeing as she approached the bus stop.
“The closer I got, the more it looked like an abduction, and I thought, ‘Oh my God. He’s dragging her into the woods.’ ”
The man had come up behind 20-year-old Ainhoa Mendez, wrapped his belt around her neck and then began pulling her away as she was screaming.
By the time Ward got off the bus and chased after them, Mendez had lost both shoes and a sock, apparently dragging them against a sidewalk to resist the attacker.
As Ward ran after them, she heard Mendez struggling to scream as the man continued throttling her. The woman suddenly went silent. Ward was taking her first steps into the dark underbrush when she heard a sound, looked up and saw Mendez stumbling out.
Mendez reached down to get her shoes and her sock. But Ward, worried the man might attack again, shouted, “Ma’am leave your shoes; just get on the bus!”
Mendez was shaken and suffered only bruises in the attack. Police searched the area but reported few leads other than Mendez’s description of her unknown assailant as a dark-haired, 5-foot, 7-inch man with fair skin and medium build. A witness told police a man matching that description sped away from a nearby apartment complex driving a small orange SUV.
Mendez declined requests for an interview. However, a co-worker at the motel where she works said Mendez was grateful for Ward’s actions.
“She wants to call her to say thank you,” said the co-worker, who would only identify herself as Katherine out of worry about the attacker who had not been captured.
After it was all over, Ward did have one worry. “Her only concern,” Friedman said, “was did she violate Lynx policy.”
He assured the unlikely hero that she had not.