Less than two years after OJ Simpson took officers from the LAPD on a two-hour slow chase through Los Angeles in his Ford Bronco after his wife and her friend were found dead outside her Brentwood home, officers in Miami found themselves in a similar slow-speed chase in November 1995 as they pursued a criminal that hijacked a school bus full of autistic children. The chase ended when police fatally shot the man.
Bus 17 Hijacked
“Follow my orders or I’ll kill the kids,” Catalino Sang tells 46-year-old Alicia Chapman, the school bus driver, as he steps on the No. CX-17 bus with what he claims is a bomb in a bag in his hand and a gun in his coat. “I’m taking control now,” he says after scuffling out of his way a woman attempting to get her two kids onto the bus. “No problem, I will,” Chapman replies. “But, please don’t hurt the children.”
The mother who Sang pushed away anonymously called 9–1–1 due to the uneasy feeling this gave her.
Moments earlier, Sang, a waiter at a local restaurant, attended morning prayers at his church. He immediately walked across the street and onto the bus, which was headed to an elementary school, distraught over a debt of $60,000+ he owed in back taxes to the IRS.
Desperate to save the children without alarming the hijacker, Chapman secretly wired her microphone with her two-way radio which she hid underneath her leg. This alerted authorities to the chaos on the bus.
Soon, an assembly of squad cars with flashing blue lights, news vans recording the action live on the television and frightened parents in their personal vehicles were tailing and leading the bus.
Police Chase the School Bus
Over the next 90 or so minutes, the bus traveled through Miami at speeds never exceeding 35 MPH, well below the posted 55 MPH speed limit. Sang reached inside his coat pocket as if to reach for a gun or bomb several times as the bus traveled down the roadway.
He requested a phone from the police after communication via the two-way radio failed. An officer trailing the pursuit drove beside the school bus and tossed his personal cellular phone inside for Sang.
At Sang’s request, Chapman pulls the bus over four separate times. Each time, Sang surrounds himself with children to shield himself from any potential gunfire from the police.
Most of the kids remain calm; others cry. They know that a ‘bad man’ has made the bus driver drive the bus really slowly but likely aren’t aware of the real danger of the situation. The calm nature displayed by Ms. Chapman likely contributed to the kid’s calm demeanor.
Sang then orders Chapman to stop the bus in front of Joe’s Crab Shack in Miami Beach, his former workplace. He communicated his wishes to stop at the restaurant with the police after first requesting the bus stop at the Internal Revenue Service office.
Sang chose the restaurant after the police informed him they had already passed the IRS exit. Police began coaxing Sang to the front of the bus. Once the bus stops, a student runs off, and Sang reaches back into his coat pocket.
A police shooter crouches outside the bus and shoots Sang in the shoulder with an AR15 rifle through a bus window. Forty seconds later, police rushed onto the bus. One officer fires three rounds at Sang from his 9mm handgun after witnessing the man once again reach into his coat pocket. Sang died instantly.
Police later learned Sang was unarmed.
“Had we known he was not armed, we would not have shot him,” Metro-Dade police Director Fred Taylor said. “But we did believe that he was armed. He (the police marksman) did exactly what he was trained to do.”
One student suffered minor injuries in the incident but in all, things ended as well as expected. The kids and driver are safe. All the kids enjoyed ice cream, Coke, and french fries inside Joe’s Crab Shack while waiting on the chaos to end and for another bus to take them to school where their parents awaited them.
Who was Sang?
Sang was the married father of two children, one a high school honor student. He owned two failing Chinese restaurants which prompted him to work as a waiter at Joe’s Crab Shack. He quit the job the day before the school bus hijacking incident. Coworkers described his behavior on that Wednesday evening as “bizarre and unusual,” and said throughout the night before walking out he recited a poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson about the meaning of success.
“A bad man on a bus made us drive a long way,” said Brian Morales, 7, subjected to an unexpected lesson about life in the ’90s. “He was a very bad man, and he was keeping us on the bus.”
The movie Sudden Terror: The Hijacking of Bus 17 is based loosely on this story.