ATLANTA — The man who police say was shirtless when he hijacked an Atlanta public school bus with about a dozen students aboard and then left the vehicle driverless as it thundered down a steep hill was charged Friday with 13 counts of false imprisonment and 13 more charges of reckless conduct.
Atlanta Police also charged 23-year-old Arris Pitmon with four counts of battery, one count of theft by taking an automobile, one count of interference with government property and one count of damaging property after Thursday afternoon's bizarre escapade.
One student and the bus driver were taken to a hospital as a precaution and later released, a school spokesman said. Witnesses and school officials say they were amazed that no one was seriously hurt.
The school bus driver was dropping off a student from Forest Hills Academy, which has grades seven through 12, at a southeast Atlanta neighborhood when a shirtless Pitmon jumped through the window and overpowered the driver to take the wheel, said Atlanta Police Officer James Polite.
Pitmon then left the seat to chase the driver toward the rear of the bus, but a struggle ensued when he saw a student try to regain control of the vehicle, the officer said. The bus continued forward, leaving the roadway and barreling through a fence before finally crashing to a halt at a wall about 175 feet off the pavement.
Many of the students bounded out of the emergency exit in the back to frantically run for help.
Tequella Thompson took her 16-year-old daughter, Sanquan, to Grady with a possible back injury.
"The bus was still moving when he (the hijacker) threw her off the back of the bus, he pushed her off the back of the bus," Thompson told WXIA-TV. "Some of them were jumping off and he was pushing some of them off."
Chiquita Rogers said the man swung at some of the students, including her 16-year-old son, Donte.
"He pushed my son, and that's when my son hit him. I guess everybody started swinging, and everybody just started out the back door, jumping."
'This was a weirdo'
By the time Pitmon was arrested after the crash, he was naked, police said.
Corey Turner, who was mowing the lawn at a nearby church, said the man lost his pants while trying to escape from bystanders.
"This was a weirdo," said Turner, who is 38. "Something was wrong with this guy. We turned him over and he just had a condom on. Maybe he was stripping or something — I had no earthly idea."
The incident prompted parents to called for better security on school buses.
"I've never heard of this, Ayabi Logan, who drove up on the scene just after the incident ended, told WXIA. "I mean, how do you just jump on a bus, naked? Why do you do this to children? It's a school bus!"
"It's devastating," for the students and their parents, said Tequella Thompson. "I think they need to hire more people to help on those buses. Just get some more parents to volunteer or anything to help prevent this from happening again."
Surveillance video from a nearby Citgo gas station showed the shirtless suspect crouching and fidgeting as he walked through the lobby before jumping aboard. A cashier said Pitmon seemed to be looking for someone.
"Suddenly, he was doing crazy things," said Mohamed Gulhamid, who works at the Citgo. "He was sitting down, he was trying to grab a customer's feet."
School officials are thankful that the bizarre hijacking didn't turn out worse.
"The bus was down a steep incline. If it had jumped the curb wrong, it could have turned over," said Atlanta Public Schools spokesman Keith Bromery. "It was a precarious situation."
Bromery said a crisis team went to the school Friday morning to provide counseling if needed, and would remain there for a week.
Turner, meanwhile, said he still can't believe what happened.
"This has been the craziest day I've ever had in my life," said Turner. "My concern was the children — we had to get them out of the bus. And it's a blessing that nobody got seriously hurt."
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.