Auburn President Steven Leath reacted with sorrow after two Tiger Transit drivers were arrested over the weekend and charged with raping an 18-year-old student who was making her way home from downtown on a
"I'm heartbroken," Leath said. "We work every day to make sure an incident like this does not occur. We will intensify our efforts. Safety is our never-ending priority."
The University has said it is evaluating its relationship with First Transit, the contractor that operates Tiger Transit and the late-night bus service Tiger Ten, which was intended provide students a safe way home from the downtown bar scene on weekends.
"The University is evaluating their security measures, as well as the future of our relationship with them," the University said Monday. A spokesman confirmed Tuesday that the University is still reviewing the relationship.
Two suspects in the rape, Tony Martin Patillo, 51, of Auburn, and James Don Johnson Jr., 32, of Columbus, Georgia, who were both employees of First Transit, were taken into custody Saturday and charged with first-degree strong-arm rape and first-degree sodomy.
Both have been fired by First Transit.
The attack has rattled the campus community with many female students now feeling unsafe about being alone with male employees and worried to take Tiger Transit at night, several female students told The Plainsman.
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A week before being arrested, Patillo made a post on his Facebook saying First Transit was looking for new drivers. In the post, he claimed the contractor was hiring new drivers without performing background checks.
The contractor, First Transit, in a statement to The Plainsman Tuesday, said it performs background checks and drug screenings and requires drivers to have the proper commercial drivers licenses.
"During the hiring process, we conduct background checks on all prospective employees," said Chris Kemper, First Transit's senior director of corporate communications. "We also conduct pre-employment and ongoing random drug and alcohol tests. Both of these former employees were qualified to drive according to our standards and the regulations of the state of Alabama."
The Auburn Police Division received a report on Friday at approximately 11:50 p.m. of a male exposing himself while standing over a female in the 700 block of Aspen Heights Lane in Auburn.
Responding officers located Patillo near the roadway and detained him, but were unable to locate the victim at the time of the initial report, police said in a release Monday.
Patillo was arrested on several charges of public lewdness and was taken to the Lee County Jail, where he remains on a $127,000 bond at the time of publication of this article.
Further investigation determined that a female, who appeared to be incapacitated, entered a Tiger Transit bus operated by First Transit near Magnolia Avenue.
She was allegedly assaulted in the back of the bus by Patillo, an employee of First Transit, while Johnson, who was driving the bus, engaged in actions to perpetuate the crime, police said.
Patillo exited the bus with the victim near Aspen Heights Lane, where he was arrested. After arresting Patillo, investigators were later able to identify, contact and interview the victim, an 18-year-old female.
Patillo was charged with the rape and sodomy charges while in custody at the Lee County Jail. Johnson was arrested at his home and charged
Johnson is no longer listed as an inmate at the Lee County Jail, having apparently posted his $125,000 bond.
Neither Patillo nor Johnson had criminal records in Alabama, according to online court documents reviewed by The Plainsman. Patillo was arrested in 2008 for driving under the influence but that charge was later dismissed, according to his Russell County court record.
It's unclear if the charge was dismissed with prejudice as some DUI cases are after suspects complete mandatory DUI re-education or training courses. Since the DUI was dismissed, it likely couldn't be used legally as a reason not to hire someone, an Alabama district attorney said speaking on background with The Plainsman.
Johnson had no criminal record except for several traffic citations.
Neither of the men failed their drug screenings, the contractor has said, leaving First Transit, presumably, with no reason not to hire them.
"Regarding First Transit, the contractor that operates the late-night, off-campus transportation service for students, Auburn University requires that they verify that each of their employees has submitted to and passed a background check," the University said in a statement. "They have confirmed to us they had done so in this case, despite claims to the contrary on social media."
All of the transit buses are currently equipped with security cameras. But the University is still reviewing safety practices on the Tiger Transit buses and what more can be done to ensure a similar attack doesn't happen again, the University said.
If students feel unsafe, they should dial 911 in an emergency situation or 334-501-3100 to reach the Auburn Police Division in a non-emergency situation. Police are the only ones who can investigate a crime for legal prosecution.
In the case of an assault, you should preserve the evidence: don't shower and don't change your clothes. Go to the nearest hospital — which, in Auburn is East Alabama Medical Center — and get medical care. If you want to report the assault, request a rape kit.
On campus, other resources are available. Students can reach a Title IX coordinator at 334-844-4794 to report a sexual assault or sexual harassment, including an incident on a Tiger Transit.
While officials encourage anyone to report an assault, it's the survivor's choice whether to do it. Either way, there are resources for students who don't want to report including Safe Harbor, which can provide sexual assault counseling and support.
A Safe Harbour advocate can be reached at 334-844-7233. More resources for survivors are available online at www.auburn.edu/titleix.
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