Family and friends discuss Fayola Howard’s caring nature

Photo Courtesy of Shola Henry
Fayola Howard is seen in January 2018, approximately two years before an incident for which the NJ Transit bus driver was charged with aggravated manslaughter, among other charges.

BLOOMFIELD, NJ — The criminal trial of Fayola Howard, 36, a Bloomfield resident and 2005 Bloomfield High School graduate, will be scheduled this month, according to the office of Newark Superior Court Judge Ronald Wigler, who will hear the case. Howard is charged with six counts, including aggravated manslaughter, in the death of Kevin Thomas, 55, of Newark.

On Dec. 31, 2019, Howard, an NJ Transit bus driver, is alleged to have closed the front bus door on Thomas’ arm as he boarded. She then drove the bus with Thomas running alongside it, shouting at her and Howard shouting back. According to court papers, when his arm came free from the door, he fell to the street, striking his head, and the rear bus tires rolled over his body. The bus did not stop. Thomas died six days later from his injuries. 

Arrested Feb. 18, 2020, at Newark International Airport, Howard was deemed a flight risk and incarcerated. Because of pending litigation, NJ Transit spokesperson Nancy Snyder could not comment on Howard’s employment status following the incident, except to say Howard was terminated on May 1, 2020. 

On Sunday, March 27, The Independent Press interviewed Howard’s mother and stepfather at their home, where Howard also resided. Friends and family were present.

Howard’s mother, Rosemarie Jennifer Rudder, said she wanted people to know her daughter was a real human being, a person filled with love for humanity. She began the interview with a prayer asking God for the wisdom to know the right words to say. 

“She assists people in every way possible,” Rudder said, “from taking teenagers out to dinner to share their experiences and fears that they cannot (share) with their parents to assisting with a church group at the Holy Name of Jesus, in East Orange. On Dec. 31, for the last 13 years, she has volunteered her time, talent and money by serving the needy in the YMCA in Newark.”

Rudder said her daughter, while incarcerated, endured the deaths of her birth father, her stepfather’s mother and a great-aunt.

“These were all people who were scared and worried about what they were seeing in the news,” she said.

“I never looked at the news,” said Mervyn Rudder, her stepfather. “I never tried. I never want to look at it, because it’s not this person I know that they are speaking about.”

His daughter returned home troubled after the incident.

“You could see the sadness on her face,” he said.

“The prior week she was very ill and we took her to urgent care,” Rosemarie Rudder said. “The doctor thought she had the flu and sent us to the emergency room at Clara Maass. The nurse wanted to keep her out of work. She had food poisoning. But she went to work.”

“If she took sick leave, she would have been home,” Mervyn Rudder said.

Upon arriving home, she told her parents that something had happened at work.

“She explained some things to us,” Rosemarie Rudder said, without elaborating.

On Feb. 4, 2020, the parents left for Trinidad. They were driven to JFK International Airport by their daughter and Melissa George, a friend and 2004 BHS graduate. Returning from the airport, George said Howard stopped to help a driver who had experienced a car accident.

“She had us out there for two hours while this girl sobered up,” George said.

Howard checked the woman’s license to see if she lived far away. 

“She made it her business, the safety and security of others,” George said.

According to Mervyn Rudder, his daughter was expected in Trinidad on Feb. 18, 2020, for her mother’s birthday on March 10. But people started to call them with warnings not to look at social media. 

“We just came back home,” Mervyn Rudder said. “That was it.”

They first saw their daughter in court on Feb. 24, 2020. COVID-19 prevented visits for almost a year. Occasional visits were then permitted, although Howard called everyday. 

“She tries to call at 7:30 a.m., so she can speak to her niece before she goes to school,” Rosemarie Rudder said. “She tries her best not to show her bad days. When we had the opportunity to see her, she was so happy. She’s well, by the grace of God.”

Natasha Antoine, a cousin, said her family prays for the Thomas family.

“It was an accident,” she said. “Everybody in this room, they speak about Fayola. We could bring a thousand people, and they would speak the same thing.”

“Fayola is also the godmother of my daughter,” George said. “I gave her that title because I know, if I couldn’t take care of my daughter, she would be fine.”

Mervyn Rudder said that, several weeks prior to this interview, his daughter called to say she wanted to feed the inmates. 

“She wanted us to prepare meals,” he said.

On two occasions, the Rudders brought 75 meals to the jail. They will bring another 75 meals two more times.

“She wanted it done for Lent,” Rosemarie Rudder said. “This is something she would ordinarily do for people.”

“She had to get approval for those meals,” George said. “That shows the type of person she is, getting that approval.”