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Hijacker Crashes Bus in Philly

April 1, 1998

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ A man hijacked and wrecked a city bus this morning in Philadelphia, ramming it into a support pillar of the Market-Frankford elevated train line.

``That accident almost split him in half. It was horrific.″ said Kim Trachtenberg, who was about a half block away when the bus hit the column.

She heard the impact and saw pieces of the bus flying.

The front end of the bus was split in two. The pillar sliced through the front quarter of the bus, crushing the right side and leaving the left side _ where the hijacker had been sitting _ mangled.

Police officer Sharon Brambrinck estimated that the bus had been going 50 mph when it hit the pole. She guessed that the hijacker had been trying to make a left turn at the time.

``When I saw that, I figured there had to be fatalities. Thank goodness there wasn’t,″ she said.

Sgt. Christine Coulter of East Detectives said the man, who identified himself as Michael Smith, 45, had refused to pay his fare and driver Norma Parker stopped the Route 54 bus while she called police.

The man forced the driver and about 10 passengers off the bus at 4:56 a.m., and then drove the bus a few blocks down Kensington Avenue and into the pillar, Coulter said.

Police observed the bus but did not chase it, Sgt. Stephen McCusker said.

Fire rescue crews were called to extricate the man from the mangled bus. He was arrested and taken to Temple University Hospital with a broken leg. He was conscious but did not offer any explanation for his actions, McCusker said.

The hijacker was charged with simple assault, recklessly endangering another person, terroristic threats, criminal mischief, robbery, theft, receiving stolen property and unauthorized use of an auto.

The tracks of the elevated train line were not damaged and trains continued to run, McCusker said. The train line and the bus are both owned and operated by the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority.

The driver was shaken up but not injured, McCusker said. Traffic was tied up for more than two hours while the bus was removed from the pillar.

Police had to use a front-end loader to push the wrecked bus back off the pillar. It was hauled away on a flatbed truck.