A newly obtained sheriff’s report indicates that a South Bay bus driver promised last month that there would be “some shooting” if he was fired for not meeting the Valley Transportation Authority’s vaccine mandate.
“If I get fired today, you’re going to see me on the news,” the driver, Douglas Lofstrom, told a co-worker, according to an investigatory report into the June 17 incident. Lofstrom was arrested shortly after the alleged threats were made, but law enforcement did not detail the reason at the time.
Lofstrom’s conduct — and its aftermath — have become a raging point of contention at the transit agency, where a top union official has blamed agency management for placing pressure on Lofstrom through the vaccine mandate, and other employees are now expressing outrage that neither the union nor the agency are taking forceful action against violent threats at a workplace subjected to a horrific mass shooting just over a year ago.
“We were all warned there was going to be zero tolerance after the mass shooting,” said Lavon Gray, a 27-year veteran of the transit agency. “If they can’t fire this guy, what’s going to prevent the next guy?”
For his part, Lofstrom is denying the allegations of threats in a plea for donations on GoFundMe. But he acknowledges he made “comments” over the bus dispatch system hours ahead of a disciplinary meeting with VTA management over the vaccine mandate. Lofstrom also claimed on the GoFundMe page that he was vaccinated two days before the meeting to avoid being fired.
Lofstrom, a 23-year VTA employee, faces an upcoming disciplinary hearing where his future at VTA will be determined. The VTA would not say if it will fire Lofstrom. Carolyn Gonot, VTA’s general manager, called threats of violence “unacceptable” and said the agency will reach a decision on his employment after “following the required administrative procedure.”
The sheriff’s report says that two employees, neither of whom is identified by name, told deputies of the threats.
Lofstrom’s alleged behavior comes as the nation reels from a slew of mass shootings and as lawmakers debate over the best way to tamp down gun violence. Last year, VTA employee Samuel Cassidy went on a shooting rampage in May 2021, killing nine coworkers. The massacre has sparked multiple lawsuits in which surviving family workers argue the transit agency ignored a series of red flags to prevent the shooting, including worries that Cassidy could “go postal” after he berated a female coworker.
The same day that Lofstrom made threats to his colleagues, records show that he was served a gun violence restraining order by the sheriff’s department. One of the state’s main tools in trying to prevent gun violence, a GVRO allows authorities to seize weapons and prohibit someone who has made threats from obtaining a gun.
However, records show that no weapons were seized at his Scotts Valley house near Santa Cruz. As part of the order, Lofstrom is not allowed to own any weapons or ammunition. At a July 7 hearing, a judge ruled that the restraining order should be extended until mid-September.
Lofstrom pleaded not guilty on June 21 to a misdemeanor count of threatening crime with intent to terrorize and has been ordered to wear a GPS ankle bracelet and attend psychological counseling as his case makes it way through court. A hearing for the misdemeanor charge is scheduled for Aug. 29.
Reached by phone on Monday, Lofstrom declined to comment and an attorney did not return a request for comment.
Without detailing the nature of the alleged threats, VTA union president John Courtney claimed soon after the incident that “undue pressure” from the VTA administration’s vaccine mandate sparked Lofstrom’s threats.
In an interview on Monday, Courtney initially said that he is “fighting” for Lofstrom but then asked for his comments to be corrected.
“What I’m saying is that every citizen in this country has the right to due process,” said Courtney, who was previously criticized for defending Cassidy in disagreements with management prior to his shooting rampage.
At the time of the alleged threat, about 50 VTA employees, including Lofstrom, faced possible terminations for refusing to get vaccinated for the COVID-19 virus by April 29. VTA, which was the last major transit operator in the Bay Area to enforce a vaccine mandate, has wielded the threat of firings to boost vaccinations similar to BART and Muni. However, some agencies, including Caltrain and Los Angeles Metro — the largest transit agency in the state — have allowed testing options for unvaccinated workers to stave off firings.
Gray, a longtime transit dispatcher, said she is also upset that the VTA has yet to follow through with firing Lofstrom or any other unvaccinated employee.
“People have retired (over the mandate), and now this guy goes and makes a threat, saying, ‘Fire me and I’m going to shoot the place up,’ ” said Gray. “John Courtney comes in and says, ‘Well, you guys did that to him’ and (VTA management) takes it.”