Friday, October 25, 2013

TOP STORY >> Heroic bus driver honored

Leader staff writer

The driver of the Pinewood Elementary School bus hijacked by a Jacksonville man on Oct. 17 returned to work Thursday, one day after the Pulaski County Special School District recognized her for keeping calm during the crisis.

Eleven children were on the bus. No one was injured.

And 51-year-old Sheila Hart of Jacksonville, who has been driving a bus for 20 years, saw her “babies” the day after the hijacking.

She visited the school and spoke with all of the kids who ride her bus.

“They were all worried about me. I just wanted to reassure them. They gave me lots of hugs,” Hart told The Leader on Wednesday evening. About the hijacking, she said, “I had to stay strong for them…That’s what we’re supposed to do, protect them.”

Hart added that some of the children were worried that she wasn’t coming back. But, she said at the Wednesday ceremony, “I’m ready to get back and make my babies safe.”

About being back on the job, she also said, “I’ll be scanning around, making sure nobody’s on there. That’s for sure. I’ll be OK.”

Superintendent Jerry Guess called her “a heroic person” during a ceremony held Wednesday at the bus depot on Redmond Road. “Perhaps the events that occurred saved lives, the lives of those students,” he said.

State Education Com-mission director Tom Kimbrell said, “She did everything right.”

The bus driver received a key to the city from Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher, a $1,000 check from an anonymous donor and a Chili’s gift basket that included a $100 gift card. Daniel Gray, a member of the Jacksonville/North Pulaski Education Corps and the chamber of commerce’s education committee, presented the check to Hart.

About the $1,000, the bus driver said she was surprised and that it will help her pay bills. “It always comes when you need it,” she said.

Hart, a Jonesboro native, moved to Jacksonville 33 years ago because her husband was in the military, she said. But the bus driver has been in the area longer than that because her mother moved to North Little Rock when Hart was 8 years old.


The alleged hijacker, 22-year-old Nicholas John Miller, has pleaded not guilty to felony vehicle piracy, 12 felony counts of kidnapping, two felony counts of aggravated assault, felony fleeing, misdemeanor driving while intoxicated-drugs and misdemeanor reckless driving.

Miller is being held in the Pulaski County Jail on $338,165 bond.

Karlena Lipari was at the North First Street bus stop in Jacksonville with her daughter the morning of the hijacking. She, along with police who helped resolve the crisis, was also thanked at Wednesday’s ceremony.

Lipari said Miller, armed with a knife, asked her for her car, but she didn’t have one. She lives just three blocks away and walks to the bus stop.

On Wednesday, the parent said, “It’s hard in the mornings to go to the bus stop.” Lipari’s husband started walking her there after the hijacking, she said.

But her daughter is still a bus rider.

Lipari explained, “I don’t want her to think, don’t want to hold her back for if anything happens; you’ve got to keep going.”

The parents said, after Miller tried to get a car from her, he walked away to cross the street to where Hart had parked the bus.

Lipari stopped her daughter and three other children from getting on the bus, then she mouthed to Hart that the man had a knife, the parent said.

But Hart said Wednesday that a lot of parents come to her door to ask questions and she assumed Miller was one of those.

“He jumped on the bus and said, ‘Drive” and I said, ‘What?’ He flipped the knife out and said, ‘Drive, shut the door and drive,’ and that’s what I did. I said ‘OK, where do you want to go and what’s wrong?’” Hart recalled.

She did see Lipari’s second gesture, which told her that the parent was going to call 911. Hart said she drove for about three blocks before Miller asked that they switch seats while the bus was moving.

Hart told him, “No, we can’t do that.” So they pulled over and she showed him how to work the controls.

Even when police finally stopped the bus, the bus driver was worried about getting off safely. Hart said, while cops were pointing their guns at Miller, she was thinking, “set the brake.”

As soon as Miller hit the green button for the doors to open, Hart continued, “I grabbed the babies and said let’s go.”

Hart said, during the hijacking, “I kept telling him to be careful. I asked him couldn’t me and the babies get off. Let’s just take them to school. I told him you could have this bus, just let us off.”

Hart explained that Miller said yes, but then missed a turn and started becoming more irritable. He also told them that he would drive the bus until it ran out of gas, Hart said.

She had recently completed training on how to handle a hijacking, but said Wednesday, “No kind of training could prepare you for that. It helped.”

Hart also said, “I guess my mother instinct kicked in.”

She has three adult children and five grandchildren. During that drive, the bus driver said one girl on the bus started to cry and she had to tell the girl to do so quietly.

A little boy asked Hart if he could get off and she told him that she would talk to the hijacker about it.


Hart said things eventually got better, especially when the knife was closed and he tossed it onto the dash. He would have had to stand up to retrieve it from the dash of the bus, but he didn’t.

She continued, “He was kind of polite. He said ma’am can I use your cell phone…I think he was starting to trust me then.”

Miller called his dad, who didn’t answer. Then he called his mom, Hart said.

He told her what he had done, that he was going to jail for a long time and that he had taken a shot of methamphetamine, Hart recalled.

She said she could tell he was on a drug, but hearing it confirmed it. “That scared me,” she said.

Reflecting on her actions during hijacking, which included talking to Miller and keeping the kids calm, Hart added, “I think the right thing to do was talk to the person, keep a cool head.” She doesn’t think she would have done anything differently.

At speeds around 40 mph, police followed the bus from the 3700 block of North First Street near the air base to Hwy. 367, John Harden Drive and Hwy. 5 in Cabot — where the 20-minute, nine-mile chase ended.

Cabot police put out a spike strip on Hwy. 5/Mountain Springs Road. Miller allegedly slowed down and veered off the road to avoid the spike strip, coming to a stop.

He told police there were people after him, according to the police report. Miller said hijacking the bus was only way for him to get away and save his life, it continued.

He also told police that he had not planned to hurt anyone on the bus.

This was not his first run-in with them. Miller had been arrested three times this year. The charges were breaking and entering of a vehicle, theft of property, possession of drug paraphernalia, terroristic threatening and third-degree domestic assault.