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Bus Hijacker Takes Wild Ride, Dies During Fight With Riders Babbling About Movie ‘Speed,’ Knife Wielder Drove For An Hour

Sun., July 20, 1997, midnight

On a bus barreling down a South Carolina highway in the middle of the night, a passenger lumbered up the aisle, put a knife to the driver’s throat and shouted: “I’m not playing!”

Christopher M. Duffner of Covington, Ky., took the wheel for an hour early Saturday, ranting about the movie “Speed” and threatening to drive off a bridge, police said.

But the calm bus driver forced the vehicle to a stop, and he and some of his 24 other passengers jumped the knife-wielding man. Duffner wound up dead, though police wouldn’t say how he died; he was not shot or stabbed.

When firefighters pried open the door of the bus on a concrete median on Interstate 77 in south Charlotte, “the bad guy fell out, and he was DOA,” said Capt. J.C. Felder of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police.

None of the passengers was injured, although five were taken to hospitals complaining of chest pains.

It all started about 1:30 a.m. after the bus pulled out of Columbia, S.C.

Duffner, 26, had been drinking and had two bottles of wine in his backpack.

The hijacker ordered the passengers to the back as he sped north, swerving.

“He was talking out of his head the entire time. He said he was going to ‘stab them before they stab me,”’ said passenger Sherry Knight of Charleston, S.C.

One passenger said Duffner drank Mad Dog wine as he drove.

Knight said she and other passengers held up “help” signs to passing truckers and even threw trash out the window to try to attract the attention of a highway patrolman.

One woman had a cellular phone, but her phone service didn’t work outside her home area, Knight said.

“It got pretty hairy for a while. I just started praying,” said passenger Claude LaRue of Atlanta, on his way to a family reunion in Virginia.

“He meant to kill us. He said he was going to take us to the mountains and maybe let the kids off before he drove off” with the other passengers, said Kay Lane of Jonesborough, Tenn., who sat next to Duffner before he took over the bus.

Bus driver H. Gene Sparks, in a seat near the front of the bus, kept everyone calm.

As the bus neared Charlotte, Sparks noticed Duffner “started to talk more erratic than he had been and acted more erratic,” said Rick Vanhoy, Greyhound’s area manager in Charlotte.

Sparks pulled the emergency brake and he and Duffner tumbled into the stairwell, where they fought. Another Greyhound driver who was riding the bus to start a trip from Charlotte, Gary Sutton, grabbed the wheel and stopped the bus against the concrete median, said Vanhoy.

Then some of the passengers “took it upon themselves to overtake the overtaker,” and went to Sparks’ aid, Felder said.

Other passengers climbed out windows and flagged down motorists.

“I tried to be cool and calm under the circumstances,” said Sparks, of Jacksonville, Fla.


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