Serial transit impostor arrested

2010-09-01 07:39

New York, US. – A man who commandeered a subway train at age 15 and has repeatedly posed as a transit worker was arrested again on charges he stole a bus in New Jersey and drove it to a New York airport.

Darius McCollum (45) was stopped by police officers yesterday morning in the borough Queens while driving an empty New York Trailways bus, authorities said.

McCollum, who lives in Harlem, has been arrested 26 other times.

Over the years, he has donned Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) uniforms and cheerfully collected fares, cleared trash from tracks and put out underground fires.

But he’s also driven MTA buses and trains.

Darius McCollum became a New York sensation as a teenager when he commandeered a subway train full of passengers in 1981, taking the controls and piloting it to the World Trade Center.

It turned out to be the first of many forbidden rides.

By the mid-1990s, frustrated transit officials posted thousands of wanted posters in trains and stations so riders could report McCollum sightings.

But riders who ran into him found him simply friendly and helpful.

The MTA New York City Transit agency’s security department has had McCollum on its radar since his most recent release, and MTA spokesperson Paul Fleuranges said employees have been on the lookout for the “career transit worker wannabe”.

Yesterday, the bus was taken from a maintenance facility in Hoboken, New Jersey.

It was tracked using GPS to New York, where police stopped it around 9.15am local time on an entrance ramp to the Van Wyck Expressway, which connects Queens and the Bronx.

The New York Police Department says the keys were in the ignition and McCollum essentially walked to the facility, got on the bus and drove away.

Police say he told them that he went to John F Kennedy International Airport and drove around Queens.

He didn’t pick up any passengers, and he wasn’t wearing a uniform, they say.

McCollum was expected to be arraigned today on a charge of criminal possession of stolen property, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said.

McCollum was arrested on charges of grand larceny and criminal possession of stolen property.

He was awaiting arraignment late yesterday.

His mother, Elizabeth McCollum, said he’s autistic and doesn’t mean to harm anyone.

She said she didn’t believe he had stolen the bus.

In 2001, McCollum pleaded guilty to posing as a transit supervisor the previous year, tripping a switch that caused a subway train to stop.

He was sentenced to 2 1/2 to five years in prison and was paroled in April 2006.

In 2008, he was arrested in the Columbus Circle subway station in Manhattan for impersonating an MTA employee.

And a couple of months after that he was held on charges he impersonated a federal officer aboard a Long Island Rail Road commuter train in Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan.

Some medical experts said they believe he suffers from Asperger’s syndrome, a mental condition on the autism spectrum characterised by obsessive and anti-social behaviour.

He has never been diagnosed.

Elizabeth McCollum said she moved to North Carolina 20 years ago with her only son, who would pick up and leave for New York because he missed the trains.

He has never worked as a paid transit employee.

His mother said that by the time he was 8 he had memorised the city subway system, by far the biggest in the country, and could direct a person to any point on it without consulting a map or guide.

She said she asked the MTA several times to give him a job or an internship but the agency refused.

“He’s in hog heaven when he’s on a train or a bus,” she said.

“What he needs is a break. He needs help. He is an exceptional kid, but he’s never been given a chance to use his gifts. It’s sad.”

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