Terrifying Rides Ends in Death for School Bus Hijacker, Kids OK
MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (AP) _ For 75 terrifying minutes Thursday, an edgy man with a small bag stood on a school bus with 13 disabled children aboard, repeatedly reaching into his jacket as if he had a gun and threatening to blow everyone up.
Four times, the bus, surrounded by police cars as it traveled 15 miles of Miami-area highways, came to a stop at the hijacker’s request. Each time, he crouched down and gathered his whimpering young hostages around him to shield himself from the police.
When negotiations failed, police shot him to death at the door of the bus and dragged him into an alley.
When it was over, the crying children _ who have autism or speech impediments _ were taken into the crab restaurant where the hijacker was a waiter and were given Cokes, french fries and ice cream.
Seven-year-old Brian Morales called the hijacker ``a bad person.″
The hijacker was identified as Catalino ``Nick″ Sang, 42, a native of the Dominican Republic who had lived legally in the United States since 1984.
He had been angry with the IRS and initially said he wanted to go to an IRS office, police said. The nature of the dispute was not immediately known. An IRS spokesman said the agency cannot discuss a private citizen’s taxes.
During the hijacking, Sang carried a bag and told police he had a bomb. But the device turned out to be a small canister resembling an oxygen tank, and police found no weapon.
The youngsters were on the way to their school, Blue Lakes Elementary, when Sang forced his way aboard at a stop near the Palmetto Expressway southwest of downtown Miami. He pushed aside a mother putting her child on the bus and told the driver in Spanish, ``I’m taking control,″ police said.
In addition to the driver, an aide and the mother of one child were on the bus. The students are in kindergarten through fourth grade.
A convoy of pursuing police cars, lights flashing, quickly formed around the bus as the vehicle, with the door wide open and the bus driver obeying the rules of the road, traveled at a cautious 35 mph to 40 mph, below the 55 mph limit. Two students and two adults were let off during the stops.
``The bus driver said she felt threatened, because the subject, when he argued with her, would reach inside his jacket. She thought he might shoot her,″ said Pat Brickman, a Metro-Dade police spokesman.
``She kept the subject calm, she kept reasoning with him. She said I’ll take you where you want to go. I would give her a lot of credit not just for keeping the kids calm but for keeping this hijacker in a lucid state so that he didn’t shoot anybody.″
The ordeal, broadcast live on national television, ended outside Joe’s Stone Crab, a popular restaurant where Sang worked. The bus came to a stop; police fired at least three shots at Sang, then swarmed the bus’s front door.
``Police opened the back door of the bus and motioned for the kids to come off,″ said a witness, Joe Belviso. ``Police were grabbing the kids and carrying them away from the bus. One was crying, and the others had blank expressions on their faces.″
At least one youngster was cut by flying glass from a window broken when police shot the hijacker. But none of the students were seriously hurt.
``When they got the ice cream, they felt a lot better,″ Dade County schools Superintendent Octavio Visiedo said.
Schools spokesman Henry Fraind said the bus driver, 46-year-old Alicia Chapman, is a ``modern-day hero.″ ``She remembered one thing we are all taught as educators _ you protect the welfare of the children,″ Fraind said.
After being taken inside the restaurant, the children were put on a different bus to their school, where they and their parents hugged and wept.
Carlos Brouwer described her reunion with her 7-year-old son Nicolas as ``probably the best experience I’ve ever had in my life.″
According to police and school officials, police were alerted to the hijacking by an anonymous caller who reported seeing the man force his way onto the bus. TV helicopters hovered overhead and broadcast live shots.
Parents of the children gathered at the school, watching TV coverage of the unfolding drama.
The bus stopped and the driver said the hijacker wanted a cellular phone, which was not immediately available. When the bus stopped again, the driver’s aide, who is diabetic, got off and was immediately taken to a hospital for an insulin injection.
During another stop, the mother and two children were let off because they were hysterical. When the bus stopped again, a patrolman pulled up alongside and threw a cellular phone into a window to help with negotiations.
``The kids were crying throughout and every time the bus would stop, the hijacker would stoop down on the ground and surround himself by the children so that officers could not see anyone was on the bus,″ Brickman said.
The hijacker then ordered the bus across the MacArthur Causeway to Miami Beach and led police through the streets of the South Beach tourist area.
At the restaurant, police crouched behind their cars, aiming guns at the bus.
``As the bus stopped originally, we attempted to make contact, negotiate with him,″ Brickman said. ``We’re not sure of all the demands he might have been making.″
While police tried to negotiate, the bus started moving again slowly and stopped, he said. Sang was then shot.
Employees of Joe’s said Sang had worked as a waiter at the restaurant for nine years but walked off the job Wednesday night, apparently because of the tax dispute.
One restaurant employee, who gave her name only as Candy, said: ``Things were happening in his life that were building up. I talked to him about his family. He cares a lot about his family and children, but we never discussed this.″
Another restaurant employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the hijacker ``was just snapping″ at work earlier this week.
``He started freaking out,″ the employee said. ``He threatened us.″