Atlanta Hijacking Raises Grave Concerns About School Bus Safety

When asked to name the most dangerous aspect of a school bus, many parents would be tempted to cite a lack of seat belts or the potential for bullying while the driver’s head is turned. Very few parents would likely list hijacking among their list of school bus related concerns – until a couple of weeks ago when a man attempted to hijack a school bus in Atlanta.

At around 4pm on Thursday, August 27, 2009, a school bus driver was transporting her teenage charges down Boulevard Rd. When she made a routine stop and opened the doors, a man forced his way onto the bus and began attacking the driver and one teenager.

While the fight ensued, the quick thinking teenagers opened the bus’s emergency exit and filed out of the back, then called for help.

The attacker was Arris Pitmon, 23, who bystanders described variously as shirtless or “butt naked.” During the attack Pitmon climbed in through the driver’s side window, wrested control of the bus from the driver, and then followed her to the back of the bus where she had retreated with the students. From that point, a 16-year-old male engaged with Pitmon and attempted to take the bus from him. According to the AJC, the still moving bus eventually jumped the sidewalk, slid down a hill, and crashed into a fence.

By that time several gardeners from a nearby church were able to surround the bus and tackle Pitmon as he fled. At that point, bystanders began attacking the hijacker until one of the groundskeepers could pin and subdue him.

Pitmon is being held at the Grady Hospital Detention Center, charged with, among other things, 13 counts of false imprisonment, 13 counts of reckless conduct, four counts of battery, one count of theft by taking, one count of interference with government property and one count of damage to property. As a result of the hijacking, one injured student and the bus driver were transported to Grady Memorial Hospital. According to school officials, no one was seriously injured and the hospital visits were just a precaution.

Officials agree that the outcome of the hijacking represented a best case scenario. In the worst case, the school bus could have overturned due to the rocking and erratic maneuvering caused by the hijacking. And, if the assailant had been armed, a whole new level of danger could have materialized.

In response to the hijacking, Atlanta public school’s transportation and security divisions are investigating witnesses and trying to identify protocols to prevent hijacking in the future.

In another Metro Atlanta bus-related incident, a Sandy Springs 16-year-old was injured when he jumped out of the rear door of a moving school bus.

What is your opinion on the Atlanta school bus hijacking and school bus safety and general? How do you think they, and school districts around the country, can prevent a hijacking incident?