March 27, 1997 in Nation/World

Man Driving Stolen Bus Picks Up Passengers

Associated Press

David Middleton did almost everything one could ask of a bus driver.

He showed up bright and early Wednesday at the NJ Transit depot in Orange, drove away in a 45-seat bus, picking up passengers, collecting their fares and letting them off during his 110-mile excursion.

Problem: Middleton, 35, of Egg Harbor City is no bus driver. Police say he’s a thief who stole the bus and, once discovered, led police on a 3-1/2-mile chase, at speeds up to 60 mph, before surrendering.

He’s being held on $25,000 bail, charged with possession of stolen property, eluding police and other offenses.

“He was driving the bus good. He might have a future in it,” said Lt. Robert Jones, a Hammonton policeman who pursued him.

He got into the Orange yard at 5 a.m., unnoticed by inspectors, started up a bus’ keyless, button ignition and drove away, heading south, toward home, on the Garden State Parkway, said NJ Transit spokesman Steven Coleman.

He picked up two unknowing passengers and “had a real strategic knowledge of bus operations and NJ Transit operations and our fare collection system,” Coleman said.

A mechanic called police when he saw the urban transit-style bus on the parkway, instead of the “cruiser” coach that would ordinarily be used on a longer route, Coleman said.

Middleton almost stopped to pick up another passenger while being chased by police, Jones said. He slowed to 35 mph when the would-be rider waved, then resumed speed.

Why did he take the bus in the first place? “He said he needed a ride. No lie,” said Jones.

The $250,000 bus was not damaged.

© Copyright 1997 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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