The suspect in the killings of two registered sex offenders in Maine faced no security screening when he boarded a Vermont Transit Lines bus in Bangor, with three loaded handguns, the bus line's general manager said yesterday.
It is a situation that happens in bus terminals across the nation, industry officials said, adding that only at the nation's largest bus terminals does a bus passenger face the possibility of a random search.
Stephen A. Marshall, 20, who later took his own life as MBTA Transit Police prepared to take passengers off the Boston-bound bus outside South Station late Sunday, was found with two of the handguns ''on his person" and the other by his side, police said.
Vermont Transit Lines general manager Chris Andreasson said Marshall was not checked with a portable metal detector in Bangor's tiny terminal, though the bus line does perform random searches of passengers elsewhere.
''We do have in random locations and at random times the checking of passengers and their belongings, but that did not happen on this occasion," Andreasson said from the company's headquarters in White River Junction, Vt.
Peter Brountas, agent for the Bangor Bus Terminal from which the Vermont Transit bus left, said that while agents reserve the right to search bags, they normally do not. ''It's not done," he said, ''because there's not a need to." He said the terminal does not have a hand-held metal detector.
Although larger bus terminals like Boston's South Station do undertake random searches of passengers, most smaller terminals like Bangor do not.
A spokeswoman for the American Bus Association, whose 3,800 members range from Greyhound to small charter bus companies, said the problem is largely a lack of funding.
Bus carriers have received a total of $55 million in federal security funding since 2004, yet carry more passengers, 774 million annually, than airlines and Amtrak combined.
Peter J. Pantuso, the association's president, said in testimony to Congress last month that while the amount of federal funding for airline security amounts to about $9 per passenger per trip, the ratio for bus passengers is less than one cent per passenger per trip.
However, half of all bus lines that applied for federal security funds did not receive them in 2004.
''We're always open to new ideas, depending on how this investigation finishes out," said Andreasson. ''We'll certainly be open to any ideas that we can do in the future to prevent this kind of incident."
Robert Schwarz, executive vice president for Springfield-based Peter Pan Bus Lines, said Congress appropriated $10 million for security on long-haul bus lines last year.
''I would bet our sum is paltry compared to those other two modes of transportation," he said. ''If you look at all the people we carry and the money for security, it doesn't add up. That's a fundamental problem."
The bus industry has asked Congress to increase security funding for buses to $25 million this fiscal year.
Mac Daniel can be reached at email@example.com.