The death of a Brisbane bus driver was caused by a boarding passenger launching an “incendiary device” at him, Queensland’s Police Commissioner Ian Stewart has revealed.Authorities are still trying to reach the 29-year-old victim’s relatives both in Australia and overseas after he was killed while taking on passengers a bus stop in Moorooka, in Brisbane’s south.
The 48-year-old man arrested over the incident is assisting detectives.
Mr Stewart said there was no evidence that the incident was linked to terrorism or racism.
“From our initial inquiries, it appears that as passengers were boarding a bus on Beaudesert Rd in Moorooka, a man threw some sort of incendiary device at the driver,” Commissioner Stewart said.
“Sadly the driver, a 29-year-old man, died as a result of these injuries.
“From talking to witnesses, we understand several passengers on board the bus at the time managed to escape through the rear door, and I also understand part of that was because of the heroic actions of a taxi driver who saw what was unfolding on the bus.”
He said six people were taken to hospital after inhaling smoke and other minor injuries.
It has emerged that the driver had only been working as a casual bus driver for a matter of months.
Queensland Police’s Jim Keogh said the bus driver had pulled into a shopping centre bus stop at 9.05am to pick up three passengers waiting for the bus.
Six were already on the TransLink bus.
“It was at that time that one of the passengers entered onto the bus … the driver was set alight and is now deceased,” Superintendent Keogh said.
The driver stood “little chance’’, he said.
“There’s no apparent motive at this point in time. Certainly there was no issue of robbery raised.”
It is understood the man accused of attacking the bus driver may have had a history of metal illness.
He received burns to his leg and was being treated in hospital.
He is expected to be charged and may appear in court or face a magistrate in a bedside hearing as early as tomorrow.
The passengers are understood to have escaped after a bystander kicked out the bus back door.
Superintendent Keogh said passengers were “visibly shaken, traumatised, and considering themselves lucky to escape injury or death”. Some suffered smoke inhalation and at least one had sustained a minor burn.
Superintendent Keogh said police had considered terrorism, but discarded that as a motive for the attack.
He said a “heroic” member of the public risked his life to save others on the bus.
“As terrible and as tragic as this matter has been, it’s still evidence that community spirit is still strong in this area.
Superintendent Keogh said the attack appeared completely random.
“This is a rare one, where there appears to be no apparent motive,” he said. “None. It’s not a robbery … it’s a senseless, needless taking of a young life of a person who’s actually going about supporting the community by providing transport.”
Onlooker Clair Savage says the mystery man is a hero.
“I just said to him ‘you just saved people’s lives’,” she told the Brisbane Times.
She said the man quickly left the scene, having emerged to help from a nearby shop.
Inbound lanes of Beaudesert Road remain closed with diversions in place.
A taxi driver told the ABC he was walking past when the fire started, and kicked in the back door of the bus to help free the passengers.
“Unfortunately, I couldn’t go inside because of the smoke, you couldn’t even think of going in. The fire was just getting higher and higher,” the unnamed man said.
One witness said she helped passengers, including young children, get off the bus.
“I was lucky, they (the kids) were lucky. Mums were screaming … I think they were lucky to survive,” the witness told the ABC.
Brisbane’s Lord Mayor Cr Graham Quirk urged commuters to support bus drivers today in the wake of the horrific attack with flags to be flown at half-mast.
He said the driver had only been working as a casual bus driver for a matter of months.
“This is a very, very sad day for Brisbane City Council and obviously the broader Brisbane community,” Cr Quirk said.
“To see the loss of one of our bus operators in the way this has happened today is extremely sad.
“The advice that I am getting from the Queensland Police is that this is a random act. Police are still attempting to meet with the next of kin. At this time they are unable to do so. They are continuing to work on that. As soon as that occurs I will be in touch.”
Cr Quirk said CCTV footage from inside the bus has been passed on to police.
The Queensland Branch of the Rail, Tram and Bus Union has urged its members to seek the support of counsellors in the wake of the senseless attack.
“This is an unprecedented and appalling attack which has left members everywhere stunned,” the union said in a statement on Facebook.
“We won’t be speculating on this matter while the police investigation is underway.
“At this time of mourning we encourage all members to seek the support of the counsellors who are available through your depot.
“It’s a critical time to support each other and make sure your mates are OK.
“Our condolences go out to the family of the deceased, and our thoughts remain with the members affected by this senseless tragedy.”theaustralian.
Additional reporting: AAP