ANDERSONVILLE — An off-duty CTA employee who believed he'd been cut off by another driver attacked the woman with a metal baseball bat as she waited for a red light, according to court records and the victim.
Meagan Panici, 29, said she was waiting to turn left from Foster Avenue to Clark Street — one of Andersonville's busiest intersections — when she was approached by a man holding a bat who accused her of cutting him off blocks earlier.
The man wore his CTA uniform during the attack, but was not on-duty at the time, CTA officials said Friday.
After Panici got out of her car during the confrontation, she said, the man swung the bat at her "Frank Thomas"-style, hitting her in her leg and leaving her doubled over in pain.
An arrest report identified the man as 46-year-old Dwayne Preston, a CTA bus driver. Preston was arrested after the incident in late February and charged with battery causing bodily harm, court records show. He was released on his own recognizance pending trial.
On Thursday, Catherine Hosinski, a CTA spokeswoman, said that, in general, off-duty employees charged with crimes are supposed to notify their immediate supervisor. Only felony charges would stop an employee from getting paid while a case is pending, she said.
On Friday, Hosinski said Preston had "been taken out of service as we gather more information about this incident."
"The alleged actions by this off-duty operator are absolutely not in keeping with CTA policies or procedures," Hosinski said.
Preston, who has no prior criminal history, did not respond to requests for comment.
The incident happened about 7 p.m. Feb. 23 in the 1500 block of West Foster Avenue, court records show.
According to Panici, she and Preston were stopped at a red light when Preston walked up to her car and began to berate her — before eventually jabbing her in her head with a baseball bat through an open car window.
Panici said she was scared and tried to open her door slightly to push Preston away. But he immediately shut the door on her foot, she said.
With "adrenaline pumping," Panici said she opened the door again, got out, and told Preston to "back up."
He refused and continued to threaten her, she claimed, so she spit at him. That's when Preston hit her with the bat, she said.
According to an arrest report, Preston struck Panici on her upper left thigh using an aluminum Powercell baseball bat. Panici suffered bruising to her leg, but declined medical treatment, the report said.
Police were called after witnesses called 911, court records show. Preston was arrested down the street, in the 1100 block of West Foster Avenue, about 7 that night, the arrest report said.
After the attack, Panici said she crawled toward Preston's car to see his license plate number.
She said she still has pain and a bruise on her leg, and finds herself less at ease at night — even in her car.
"I always felt safe being in my car at night," Panici said, "but having to walk blocks away from home to park ... I'm always paranoid now."
Panici said the misdemeanor charge against Preston is too light.
"Knowing the judicial system, I couldn't understand that someone who ... has hundreds of people's lives in his hands every day, and hits a woman in public with a metal bat, would get off that easy," Panici said.
"It basically says to me that if you're having road rage, you can easily take your frustration out on the person with a weapon and will not have to do much more than 'not do it again,'" she said.
Preston, of the 400 block of East 42nd Place in Bronzeville, will next appear in court May 2, records show. Panici said she'll be there to advocate for "more than a slap on the wrist."
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