Friday, May 23, 2014

TOP STORY>>Bus driver glad hijacker’s plea will avoid trial

Leader staff writer

Shelia Hart is relieved that the man who held her and 11 children at knifepoint during the Oct. 17 hijacking of a Pinewood Elementary bus has been sentenced to 55 years with the Arkansas Department of Corrections.

“I was satisfied with it. I’m just glad it’s finally over,” the heroic bus driver told The Leader on Friday. Hart has been praised for keeping the man and the children calm during the incident.

The hijacker, 22-year-old Nicholas John Miller, pleaded guilty on Thursday to 11 counts of kidnapping. He will be eligible for parole in 13 years and nine months.

Hart was glad that she, and especially the kids, didn’t have to go through the ordeal of testifying.

The bus driver added that she has been doing well since the hijacking and hasn’t needed counseling, although it was offered to her and the kids.

Hart said, “I’ve had a lot of days that I’ve thought about it, but it’s getting better.”

During the hijacking, Miller had “psychotic symptoms” like hallucinations and delusions because he had taken “four shots” of methamphetamine, according to a report submitted to the court by the Arkansas State Hospital.

He was also abusing marijuana at that time.

Miller has smoked marijuana since age “12, as much as I could everyday” and methamphetamine since age “14, about two-three times a week up to everyday,” the report continues.

The morning of the incident, Miller allegedly told his father, “People are after me…They are trying to kill me.”

He told doctors at the State Hospital that he had taken four shots of meth before realizing that it wasn’t meth. There was “something wrong” because “my heart started pounding and I got very paranoid,” Miller said, according to the report. The report also states, “He was remorseful of what he did.”

Miller did not “have the capacity to appreciate the criminality of his conduct” or “the capacity to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law,” according to the report.

On the day of the hijacking, he allegedly ran from relatives and tried to steal a car from a woman he saw at 1010 N. First St. in Jacksonville.

That woman, Karlena Lipari, told Miller she didn’t have a car. He said it would be in her “best interest” to give him her car, according to a police report. She repeated that she didn’t have one.

Lipari then saw four children about to get on the school bus at a regularly scheduled stop nearby. She kept them from boarding it, but Miller got on the bus.

He showed the knife to Hart, who has been taking kids to and from school for 20 years.

Miller told her to drive from the scene and Hart complied, according to the police report. Later, he drove it, but allowed Hart to instruct him on how to work the controls.

Lipari, the parent Miller had approached near the bus stop, called 911.

Jacksonville police caught up with the bus at the 3700 block of North First Street near Little Rock Air Force Base. At speeds around 40 mph, Miller was followed from there to Hwy. 367, John Harden Drive and Hwy. 5 in Cabot — where the 20-minute, 9-mile chase ended.

During the chase, the bus struck a guard rail support on Hwy. 367, ran a stop sign and ran a red light by turning left.

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

The State Hospital’s report states that, when the hijacker finally stopped, investigators and witnesses said they heard Miller say, “People are trying to kill me. The only way to get away from them is to hijack the school bus…to save my life…no plans to hurt any children…not to get (expletive) up on drugs…I am going to prison…drive the bus to Arizona or until gas run out.”

The hospital’s report also offered a glimpse at Miller’s life.

He had abused cocaine, ecstasy and Xanax until 2010, it states.

Miller told doctors that he had recently started seeing “images and shadows” and experiencing insomnia for three to nine days.

The California native separated from his wife in July. She and their 2-year-old son live in Jacksonville.

Miller was living with his grandmother in Jacksonville, according to the report.

He dropped out of Jacksonville High School after completing ninth grade.

For six months, Miller had a job at a carpet warehouse in Arizona. Then he was fired for fighting with a coworker.

Miller has had several run-ins with the law.

He was arrested for the May 28 breaking and entering of a vehicle and theft of property. A Sherwood Police Department-issued $400 shotgun and $400 in cash were stolen. Fingerprints were found at the scene.

Miller wasn’t prosecuted for the theft charge but pleaded guilty as part of a plea bargain to the breaking and entering charge. He was sentenced to two years of probation that would have ended on Sept. 25, 2015.

Miller was arrested on Aug. 6 for possession of drug paraphernalia. He was pulled over and a syringe with residue was found in his car.

His most recent arrest, with the exception of the hijacking, was for terroristic threatening and third-degree domestic assault. The incident occurred on Oct. 8.

Miller’s wife said she went to pick up some money from him to help pay for diapers and food their son needed, according to the police report.

He took their son out of the car seat when she arrived, went inside the residence at 1000 Richard St. and began to change the baby’s diaper, she said.

His wife told police that his behavior was odd and she believed “he was high on methamphetamine, which is his normal choice of drugs,” according to the report.

Miller’s wife said she would not let him see their son if he was going to stay on drugs. That is when they began to argue and his wife decided to leave with the baby.

She told police Miller threw a dirty diaper at her face and then pushed her into the living room. He grabbed her by the neck and threatened to choke and kill her, his wife said, according to the report.