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Detour confused for 'kidnapping' by passengers going to Queen Mary Halloween event

The driver was traveling in the wrong direction and refused to pull over, a passenger said.
A shuttle bus driver in Long Beach, California wouldn't stop the bus, according to Lt. Robert Woods of the Long Beach Police Department.
A shuttle bus driver in Long Beach, California wouldn't stop the bus, according to Lt. Robert Woods of the Long Beach Police Department.Lee Piatelli

What was supposed to be a short shuttle bus ride from a California aquarium to a haunted ship for a Halloween celebration turned into a nightmare when the bus driver took a detour and then refused to pull over, a passenger said.

Several passengers aboard the bus were so scared, they called 911 and climbed out the windows because they thought the driver was trying to kidnap them, passenger Lee Piatelli told NBC News.

Piatelli was on the shuttle Thursday night with his girlfriend, her cousin and the cousin's boyfriend headed to Queen Mary's Dark Harbor. He said they had been directed to park at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach and a shuttle would take them and at least 20 others to Dark Harbor.

The ride usually takes 10 minutes, but Piatelli said he quickly realized something was wrong when he looked at a map on his phone and saw the shuttle was going in the opposite direction.

Passengers then started begging the driver to pull over, but he refused, telling them to "shut up and sit down," Piatelli said.

"We all were really scared," he said. "We didn't know where he was taking us."

Passengers began to call the police for help.

At one point, the driver slowed down, and Piatelli and others attempted to climb out the windows, he said.

"Everyone was trying to get off the bus, and he was trying to move the bus," he said.

The driver pushed one passenger who confronted him about where they were going, Piatelli said.

"When he pushed that guy, things started to go downhill and it snowballed," he said.

The driver eventually stopped the bus in Carson, which is about 20 minutes from their destination. Piatelli said he escaped by climbing out the window because the driver would not open the door.

Video taken by Piatelli shows him and other passengers standing in front of the bus and demanding the driver let the other passengers out.

"That was kidnapping what he did. All we wanted to do was go to Dark Harbor," he said, adding that he plans on getting a lawyer and will be contacting Queen Mary and the company that owns the shuttle.

"This is not OK," he said. "This is all really unsettling."

Los Angeles police responded and arrested the driver, identified as 60-year-old James Lee, just after 8 p.m.

The Long Beach Police Department said in a statement Friday that Lee told them he became disoriented because of road closures in the area and got lost.

They said in a tweet Friday that the incident was not kidnapping and they were investigating it as battery between the driver and a passenger.

Lee was booked and later released pending the outcome of the investigation, police said.