Darius McCollum being taken out of the 59th St.-Columbus Circle station by cops. Photo courtesy of Hiroko Masuike for The New York Times
I apologize for not getting to this story sooner. I had planned on doing so but got caught up. Over the weekend, the infamous Darius McCollum was busted for once again impersonating a transit employee. Darius, well known by transit employees & officials in all the tri-state area’s agencies was busted Saturday morning after entering a restricted area in the 59th St. – Columbus Circle station. Here is the story from different media sources, starting with Newsday:
A Queens man whose childhood fascination with trains grew into a lifelong obsession that frequently has crossed legal lines was arrested again Saturday in the Columbus Circle station, dressed as a subway track worker as he crossed into a restricted area, police said.
Darius McCollum’s arrest on an uptown No. 1 platform was the 24th time he has been picked up in and around the city’s trains and buses since the early 1980s. His rap sheet includes an infamous incident in which a 15-year-old McCollum, who grew up near a station in Jamaica, drove an E train safely through lower Manhattan.
“That was his best day, the best day that ever happened to him,” said his mother, Liz McCollum, who insisted Saturday that her son never posed a threat to trains or riders.
“He could have been the best thing that ever happened to the [Metropolitan Transit Authority],” she said in a telephone interview from her home in North Carolina.
Police spotted McCollum, 43, early Saturday in the Times Square station dressed in a hard hat, blue shirt and pants “extremely similar” to those worn by track workers, and gloves bearing the NYC Transit logo, police said. The cops followed him onto an uptown No. 1 train to Columbus Circle, where he exited.
McCollum was arrested after he pushed aside a barricade and entered a restricted area shortly after 2 a.m. McCollum also was carrying a backpack containing a flashlight, tools and “sensitive” transit documents, police said.
Liz McCollum said her son, who suffers from Asperger’s syndrome, a type of autism, was working in a Budweiser warehouse in North Carolina until November, when he unexpectedly left to return to New York.
McCollum was charged with criminal impersonation, criminal trespass and possession of burglar tools.
McCollum was in and out of jail throughout the 1980s and 1990s after being nabbed for sneaking into train yards, driving buses and carrying stolen identification. His last arrest was in 2006.
They tracked him down again.
Transit buff Darius McCollum, whose subway obsession has already led to 23 arrests, was busted again Saturday for impersonating an MTA worker in the Columbus Circle station, police said.
His latest legal train wreck comes nearly three decades after his first: As a teen, he commandeered an E train full of unsuspecting passengers for a ride to lower Manhattan.
He’s grown up now, but McCollum is still fixated on New York’s underground, cops said.
The 43-year-old McCollum was sporting a hardhat, a knapsack, a flashlight and gloves with a Transit Authority logo yesterday when he was arrested without incident at 2:12 a.m.
Police said McCollum, dressed in the blue T-shirt and work pants typically worn by track workers, was grabbed as he tried to enter a restricted area of the midtown station.
The heavyset suspect was led from the station in handcuffs about 10 hours after his arrest, shaking his head and moaning but saying nothing.
He was charged with criminal impersonation, criminal trespass and possession of burglary tools – a hammer and screwdiver tucked in his backpack.
McCollum’s history of transit transgressions – he’s the Willie Sutton of the subways – made him instantly recognizable to members of the NYPD Transit Queens Task Force, police said.
The Queens resident was spotted boarding a Manhattan-bound No. 7 train, with the officers following McCollum as he transferred in Times Square to an uptown No. 1 train.
He was arrested after moving a sawhorse and trying to enter a door clearly marked as restricted to transit personnel only, police said. His knapsack also held subway system maps, station layouts and train schedules, police said.
According to state prison records, McCollum was released from the Downstate Correctional Facility on July 3, 2007 – nine months after his arrest for violating parole by returning to the city from Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He was carrying an MTA badge, a hardhat and how-to manuals on running trains when he was arrested.
His first brush with the law came in 1981, when a 15-year-old McCollum commandeered the controls of an E train. The teen drove unsuspecting passengers from 34th St. to the World Trade Center.
He was busted again in June 2004 for trying to steal a 60-ton locomotive from a Long Island Rail Road yard in Queens – and sent, presumably by bus, to Sing Sing. He violated parole soon after being released in 2006.
Darius McCollum knows the New York City Transit system well. Perhaps too well.
For about a quarter of a century, he has taken trains and buses for joy rides and impersonated Metropolitan Transportation Authority workers, racking up 23 transit-related arrests. The first came in 1981, after he drove the E train to the World Trade Center. He was last in the news in 2006, when he was charged with criminal impersonation.
Mr. McCollum, 43, of East Elmhurst, Queens, was arrested again on Saturday after he tried to pass himself off as a subway worker, the police said.
When he was arrested, just after 2 a.m. on the platform at the 59th Street/Columbus Circle subway station, he was wearing navy blue clothes similar to a transit uniform, and had a hard hat, transit-logo gloves, a knapsack and documents related to the transit system in his possession, the police said.
He faces charges of criminal trespass, criminal impersonation and possession of burglary tools, the police said. Five of his previous arrests included stealing buses, the police said.
His latest journey into handcuffs started in Queens, when he boarded the No. 7 train at the 103rd Street station and rode it — as a normal passenger — into Manhattan, debarking at a Times Square station, the police said.
There, his history caught up with him. Officers spotted him posing as an employee and recognized that, despite his blue outfit, he was not a genuine transit worker.
They followed him when he got on a northbound No. 1 train. When he debarked at the Columbus Circle station and entered an area sealed off to the public, the police took him into custody.
Speaking from the station, Officer Martin Brown, a police spokesman, said that he was wearing transit clothes to make people think he was an employee.
Mr. McCollum did not speak to reporters while he was being placed into a black car by detectives. A large man, he hung his bald head low and shuffled forward, his hands cuffed behind his back.
Mr. McCollum’s mother, Elizabeth, 82, said her son had Asperger’s syndrome and had a lifelong obsession with trains.
She said she had last heard from her son three days ago, when he told her he would arrive at her home in Winston-Salem, N.C., on Thursday, taking a Greyhound bus from New York City. But he never showed up.
She said he had been living in Queens with her niece and had told her that he was working in a warehouse.
“They arrest him every time if he has got on anything that looks like transit clothes,” she said by telephone.
She said she and her husband, Samuel, had tried many times over the years to keep Mr. McCollum, who is their only child, from being arrested again by trying to persuade him to stay with them in North Carolina. But to no avail. He slips away and returns to New York City.
“He just loves New York,” she said. “He knows the people in Transportation. And he goes up there to be around them.”
His mother said that she had been telling him that “he has got to learn,” and added that hiring lawyers for him over the years had put her in debt.
But she said he needed help.
“With all these kids who are autistic, they slip behind the cracks, but nobody is trying to help him at all,” she said. “I tried when I lived in New York. Every time he was arrested he wasn’t hurting anybody, and nobody could figure out what is his problem.”
She said that sometimes, when he was younger and they were living in Jamaica, Queens, she did not know where he was and people would tell her he was in the subway. “I used to call them and go down there and look for him,” she said.
She said that he would put together model trains and other toys with ease: “We had all kinds of toys, like trains and monorails, and different kinds of things when he was growing up. And he went on to bigger and better things.”
This is a sad case as I truly feel bad for Darius. While under no circumstances are his actions justifiable, I know that sending him to prison will do no good. It is obvious that he is not your average criminal. He clearly has a disability which is what triggers his potentially dangerous transit related acts. If he really was trying to hurt somebody, he would have done so by now. He obviously wants & needs to be close to our transit system, trains specifically.
What good would prison do? He would eventually get out & probably make a new attempt. While he clearly has a strong knowledge of our system, it is also obvious that this intelligence does that transfer over to the basic common sense principles that most have (but usually chose not to use). If he did, would he really attempt any sort of action within our system when he is so easily recognizable by just about anyone? The answer is obviously no.
I seriously hope Darius gets the help he truly needs!
xoxo Transit Blogger