The driver of a school bus hijacked by a man with a knife on Oct. 17 "did a great job" staying calm and protecting 11 students on board, yet it was the recently installed GPS that allowed local police to immediately locate the bus, said the state's senior transportation officer.
"The stars were just lined up and everything worked out perfectly," said Mike Simmons, the senior transportation manager for the Division of Public School Academic Facilities & Transportation at the Arkansas Department of Transportation. "I think this will be a great teaching opportunity for us as we move forward."
Simmons told STN last week that a man armed with a knife blended in with parents at the school bus stop in Jackson, about 20 miles northwest of Little Rock, and stepped onto the bus before the driver could shut the door. The bus driver made many attempts to get Miller to let the children go, but Simmons said Miller decided that he was going to drive the bus. While the female bus driver allowed Miller to have the wheel, Simmons added that she kept herself between the suspect and the kids the entire time.
"She actually even had to show him how to operate the vehicle," added Simmons. "She remained extremely calm and, in turn, had a calming effect on him."
Earlier, according to news reports, Miller tried to hijack a car but was unsuccessful. Then the bus pulled up nearby.
Miller drove the bus for 10 miles with police in pursuit. Simmons said Pulaski County Special School District had just installed new cameras and digital radios with real-time GPS, which allowed police "to track his every move."
After finally pulling over, Miller was charged with a felony count of vehicle piracy, 12 felony counts of kidnapping, and two felony counts of aggravated assault, CNN reported. Simmons told STN that Miller was under the influence of methamphetamines at the time of the incident.
"With the rampant use of Meth and other drugs in today's society, it is evident that no community is safe from this type of behavior," he added. "I can't stress enough how all drivers need to be trained in how to handle these types of situations."
Simmons said Arkansas currently has no state policy for what school bus drivers should do when encountering someone who tries to board the school bus illegally, and he said he thinks very few local school districts have implemented policies. However, Gray Ram Tactical presented at the state transportation conference earlier this year on driver response, and Simmons said the training was "very well received."
"We have stressed in our state-mandated in-services that drivers should attempt to de-escalate the situation, if at all possible, without being confrontational," he continued. "However, their students should be their first priority."