Remembering Mark F. McLaughlin
It’s been nineteen years, but many bus drivers in the Pacific Northwest still remember the senseless murder of Seattle Metro driver Mark McLaughlin while driving his bus in the afternoon of November 27, 1998, the day after Thanksgiving. We remember Mark on this page because on that day he sacrificed his life to save 32 of his passengers. Let’s go back to that time and tell his story.
On a typical Washington November day at approximately 3:10 in the afternoon Mark was driving his route 359 Express 60-foot articulated bus south on Aurora Avenue toward downtown Seattle. He was approaching Aurora Bridge, which crosses the Lake Union Ship Canal, cruising at a speed of 50 miles per hour when a passenger, without any warning, shot Mark with a .380 handgun. Investigators believe that Mark intentionally steered his bus hard left to avoid plunging 167 feet into Lake Union, which would have killed everyone on board. The bus crossed two lanes of oncoming traffic, took out two sections of guardrail and plunged 50 feet off the east side of the bridge where it fell onto a two story apartment building roof. Investigators concluded that hitting the building cushioned the bus’s plunge, allowing 32 out of 33 passengers to survive.
Although a 69 year-old passenger was killed in the crash, 32 others were spared death by Mark’s actions. But Mark wasn’t so fortunate. Mark McLaughlin died after being thrown through the bus’ windshield and onto the apartment building’s roof.
Later, Metro General Manager Rick Walsh released some detail of what happened that day: the killer had been seated in the first seat next to the door and across from the driver. Unprovoked and with no indication of what was coming, he simply fired two shots at Mark. No one knows why he did it, nor will they ever know, since the murderer turned his gun on himself at some point during those last moments.
Eleven days later Mark was remembered by his fellow Metro drivers, and countless others from around the state. On December 8th bus service came to a halt in downtown Seattle as a procession of some 80 buses from all over western Washington slowly traveled down 4th Avenue to Key Arena for a memorial service.
At Key Arena, Mark’s bus, which had been repaired and cleaned, was waiting. His photograph and jacket were placed in the driver’s seat and purple ribbons were placed on 32 passengers’ seats. A black ribbon was place on a seat for Norman Liebelt, the passenger who was killed. The memorial ended when a Metro dispatcher called for driver 2106, Mark’s Metro I.D. number; it went unanswered.
Mark McLaughlin was born on June 13, 1954, was a veteran of the U.S. Army and had been a driver for Metro since August 1979. He left behind two sons: Brad, age 16, and Joe, age 14.