School bus is hijacked suspect slain

Disabled children used as shields in Fla. chase

November 03, 1995|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. -- A man saying he had a bomb hijacked a school bus yesterday morning with 13 disabled children on board and led the police on a 25-mile, low-speed chase from suburban Dade County, through downtown Miami and finally to the front door of a famous Miami Beach restaurant, where officers shot and killed him.

Except for one student who was slightly injured by glass shattered in the shooting, the children and adults on the bus were unharmed.

The police said they shot the hijacker in the doorway of the bus in an effort to rescue the children, who at times during the chase were used by the hijacker as a shield as he sat on the bus floor.

But for most of the ordeal, school officials said, the children stayed in their seats, following the directions of the driver, Alicia Chapman, who told them that there was nothing to be upset about and that they all should take a nap.

Within seconds of the shooting, the police officers, members of a special hostage rescue team who recently had trained for a scenario involving a hijacked school bus, dragged the hijacker's body away from the bus and pulled the children from its rear emergency exit and into the restaurant, Joe's Stone Crab.

Police said they knew of no motive for the hijacking, but Fred Taylor, director of the Miami-Dade Police Department, told reporters that the hijacker had been having financial troubles and that he owed thousands of dollars in taxes to the government.

Employees at Joe's Stone Crab said the hijacker, whom they identified as Catalino "Nick" Sang, had worked there as a waiter. The restaurant's general manager said Sang had announced last night that he was quitting, effective immediately.

The manager, Robert Moorehead, said Sang gave no reason for leaving the restaurant, where he had worked for more than seven years.

Waiters interviewed at the restaurant said that Sang had been under a lot of stress, working full time there while trying to cope with his duties at two takeout Chinese restaurants that he owned in Dade County.

The hijacker, whose body was left splayed on its back in an alley behind the restaurant through the afternoon, was later identified by the police as Sang. He was 42, police said.

Some of the children who had been held hostage on the bus are mentally retarded; others have severe learning disabilities and still others are "nonverbal," said Octavio Visiedo, the superintendent of Dade County schools. As such, he said, they might not have been completely aware of what was happening to them. But Mr. Visiedo, who visited with the students at the scene, said some seemed "nervous."

After the shooting, police carried the children into the restaurant, where the officers, school board officials and restaurant employees comforted them and served them ice cream.

Another school bus then picked up the students and took them '' to their school, Blue Lakes Elementary, about 10 miles southwest of downtown Miami, where they were met by their parents and counseled by a crisis intervention unit.

During the ordeal, police said, the hijacker was in touch with the authorities on a cellular telephone that he had demanded and received from a highway patrol officer. The hijacker told hostage negotiators that he had a bomb, which he threatened to detonate.

Police later determined that there was no bomb, only a piece of medical equipment -- part of a respirator, the police said -- that the hijacker apparently took from one of the children on the bus. Police said they found no gun.

During the chase, which was broadcast on television, the hijacker first demanded to be taken to the offices of the Internal Revenue Service. But when hostage negotiators told him that the bus had already passed that exit on the Palmetto Expressway, he changed his destination to Joe's Stone Crab, said Sgt. Ralph Fernandez of the Metro-Dade police, whose officers shot the hijacker.

Police said the incident began at 8:30 a.m. at a school bus stop, when a man pushed his way onto the Dade County school bus as a mother helped two children to board.

Mr. Taylor said witnesses told the police that only moments before, the man had entered a church near the bus stop where he had become "hysterical."

On board were 13 elementary school children in special education programs, and three adults: the driver, a bus aide and the mother.

At the news conference, Mr. Taylor said a pedestrian realized that the bus was being hijacked and called the police, who immediately gave chase.

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