Second Metro bus driver dies of COVID-19 in Seattle

A second bus driver has died from complications related to COVID-19, according to a public transportation agency in Washington state.

King County Metro Transit said Mike Winkler, 71, died June 17 after several weeks fighting the virus, The Seattle Times reported. His domestic partner Karla Mestl said he contracted COVID-19 in March.

Winkler drove buses for 32 years and worked most of his career out of the North Base in Shoreline.

“Some people called him the godfather of North Base, or the grandfather of North Base,” retired Metro driver and friend Greg Patterson said.

Winkler appeared gruff to some, but he was “a gentle soul and a very generous person,” said Mestl, who was also a bus driver.

Winkler was preparing to retire this year, Mestl said, adding that they were planning to move with the seasons between Alaska and Montana.

A memorial is being planned and details will be provided to his colleagues, said Kenneth Price, president of Local 587 in Seattle.

The announcement came after the deaths of Metro driver Samina Hameed, 59, in April and the March deaths of Community Transit driver Scott Ryan, 41, and Washington State Ferries dock employee Esther Bryant-Kyles, 64.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. But for some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

The King County Metro Transit has gradually implemented more safety measures, including face coverings, suspended fares, virus-blocking air filters, flexible leave for at-risk workers, and social-distancing rules that limit buses to no more than 18 passengers.

Face shields and safety glasses are now available for operators when the coach isn’t moving, and Metro is considering clear partitions near the driver seat, company spokeswoman Torie Rynning said, adding that drivers can expect higher-grade KN-95 masks within one to two weeks.