NEW YORK (AP) -- A man stabbed a city bus driver to death over being denied a free ride, then escaped on foot Monday in the first killing of an on-duty New York City bus driver in more than a quarter-century, authorities said.
The man got on the bus in Brooklyn shortly after noon, swiped an invalid fare card, sat down and asked for a free card to change routes.
The driver, 46-year-old Edwin Thomas, told him he couldn't get a transfer because he hadn't paid; the attacker then punched him and stabbed him in the torso in front of other passengers, police said.
The attacker fled, and Thomas was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead. Police are offering a $12,000 reward for any information on the culprit.
Passenger Benjamin Stacking told television reporters that he heard the commotion.
"It's crazy because the bus driver was cool," Stacking said. "He let me on. I was 50 cents short. He let me on and gave me a transfer."
Thomas was a seven-year, "valued employee" who will be sorely missed, said Elliot Lee Sander, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's executive director and chief executive.
"Bus operator Thomas was killed while serving the people of New York City," Sander said. "This is an extraordinary tragedy for the city and the MTA."
The MTA said the last killing of an on-duty city bus driver was in 1981.
Gov. David Paterson and Mayor Michael Bloomberg issued statements mourning Thomas and praising his work for public transportation.
"In Edwin's memory, I ask all New Yorkers riding public transit tonight or tomorrow to take an extra moment to say 'thank you' to our New York City Transit workers and I ask everyone to keep Edwin Thomas' family and loved ones in your prayers," the mayor's statement said.