NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – Harassment. Intimidation. Sexual assault.
A woman’s description of her nightmarish bus ride from New York City to Norfolk details how she was personally violated, with no help from the driver or fellow passengers.
“Even when I say it, it doesn’t seem real,” said Zubaidah Jernigan, even though she has the bus ticket, the police report, the court documents.
“I’m screaming stop this bus, are you crazy? I’m being attacked, stop this bus!”
Zubaidah Jernigan was returning in November from New York City where she takes care of her ailing dad. She was riding in a bus that runs directly between Chinatown and Norfolk.
At $35 each way, it can seem like a great deal. She says one guy who got on in New York was especially obnoxious. About an hour into the trip, she says he grabbed her genitals.
“He just kind of leaned over, and I wasn’t thinking nothing. I just felt it … And I froze, and I was just like get off of me, get away from me!”
After a while, she says he relented, but only for a while. The bus made a scheduled rest stop, and Jernigan says she told the driver what had happened.
When they got back on the bus, she says the man police would later arrest began harassing Jernigan again.
“So then I put my legs up on the back of the seat, cause I’m just trying to lean away from him, and he starts putting his hands (between her knees). So I’m moving his hands away and I’m like don’t play with me, like stop, leave me alone!”
But according to Jernigan, he did not leave her alone.
“So then he lays his head in my lap, and he’s breathing hot air. When I felt the hot air, I’m trying to get him out of my lap.”
Rolling down the road, not even knowing where she was along the New York to Norfolk route, Jernigan didn’t think at first to call 911.
“I’m screaming for the bus to stop. Stop this bus and get this dude away from me.”
Jernigan says she got no response at all from the driver.
We visited the ticket company’s office in a Norfolk shopping center, asking for Zhong Hai Pan, the man listed by Lion Tickets Inc. as the one to be notified of any legal action. We haven’t heard back, and neither did Jernigan’s attorney Chad Edwards when he contacted the company.
“Any reasonable person would have pulled over the bus and called police,” Edwards said.
Jernigan got no help from the driver, and none from fellow passengers. Just scorn.
“Everybody around me (was upset with me) and I’m just like are you kidding me? I’m being attacked and you’re all watching. Everybody just wanted to go home.”
She finally called 911, and Delaware State Police traced her phone with GPS.
“The police came behind us and he still wouldn’t stop. They surrounded the bus. By the time they stopped us it was like eight cops out there.”
Delaware troopers arrested the man and three weeks later, Jernigan had to go back to Delaware for the court case.
With none of the passengers willing to cooperate with police, it’s she said, he said.
She said he did it, he said he didn’t do it, and so he gets charged with three misdemeanors, and pleads guilty only to harassment.
Her attorney calls it a classic plea bargain in an overloaded criminal justice system. Jernigan thought her alleged attacker should have been charged with a felony.
“I spoke to the judge and I said if this was your daughter, if this was your wife, is this a misdemeanor to you?” Jernigan said.
“The scariest thing to me wasn’t the attack. It was people watching. And I felt like I was safe because there was a crowd of people around me. And I wasn’t.”
Jernigan plans to sue for negligence, saying she suffered sexual assault — not once, but twice — extreme emotional distress and psychological trauma.
“It’s so dramatic and unbelievable it sounds like something out of a movie, but it actually happened,” Edwards said.
When we contacted Lion Tickets in New York, a woman told us their lawyers were handling it, and said “we are not supposed to talk to you.” Jernigan says after the whole traumatic incident she vows that she will never again ride one of these buses.
She plans to sue in Norfolk Circuit Court for an unspecified amount of damages, claiming the bus company’s negligence led to her sexual assault.