30th Arrest: Transit Impostor Says He Needs Help

NEW YORK (AP) -

Darius McCollum is addicted to buses and trains.

The New York transit impostor who first commandeered a train at 15 has been arrested 30 times over the years for transit-related crimes. Most recently, he was nabbed in November behind the wheel of a Greyhound bus that officials say he had stolen from a depot in New Jersey.

Now McCollum, who is 50 and has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, is worried what will happen to him next. He says the obsession that’s put him behind bars for half his adult life is out of his control. But instead of more jail time, he says, he needs help.

“I can’t seem to get myself out of this on my own,” he said in a recent interview with The Associated Press at Rikers Island jail. “But what am I supposed to do? There’s no AA for buses or trains.”

Sally Butler, his lawyer, says that she applied for help “everywhere, but there’s just nothing.”

McCollum’s story has become the stuff of New York folklore. He grew up in Queens, near the 179th Street subway station, and would go there after school; conductors and other train operators got to know him.

He says he soaked up information, including memorizing the subway map by age 8, but he never quite understood the social rules, a hallmark of his then-undiagnosed disorder.

At 15, he managed to drive an E train from 34th Street — his favorite subway station — six stops to the World Trade Center without any passengers noticing. It started the cycle he’s been in for years.

He’s posed as a transit worker, collected fares, fixed broken tracks, operated subway trains and regional rail lines, and driven commuter buses. It wasn’t until after his 2010 arrest for taking a bus on a cross-state joyride that he was diagnosed with autism.

“I’m too functional in some ways,” he said. “I can cook. I can clean. I can take care of myself. I can get a job. No one knows what to do with me.”

Over the years, McCollum has worked construction, as a mailroom clerk and in fast-food, but he always lost the job because of the siren call of the train yards. (He prefers trains to buses.) Transit officials have said they wouldn’t hire somebody who had previously stolen a train or bus.

“Being around the trains used to calm me, make me feel better, relieved,” he said. “But not anymore. I’m not happy.”