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On Orlando bus, it dawns on passenger: The driver's a kid


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On Orlando bus, it dawns on passenger: The driver's a kid


By Jeannette Rivera-Lyles, Orlando Sentinel

October 30, 2006, 10:29 AM EST


Ritchie Davis

ORLANDO -- When Jeffrey Johnson boarded a Lynx bus to go to his favorite barbershop, little did he know he'd be at the center of a bizarre vehicle-theft case.

It took a few minutes aboard the Route 39 bus, from Orlando to Sanford, before he put the pieces together.

A young driver, a missing security camera, outdated ads and a dirty interior all raised a red flag.

"That's when I thought 'Oh, my God,' " Johnson said Sunday. "It was extremely surreal."

The Orlando man dialed 911 while riding the bus Saturday morning.

Ritchie Davis, 15, of Orlando, was stopped minutes later in Seminole County behind the wheel of the Lynx bus carrying Johnson and one other passenger, Seminole investigators said. Deputies said he had stolen the bus and driven it without a license. He was arrested on a grand-theft-auto charge and being held at Seminole's Juvenile Assessment Center.

The case started earlier that morning in Orange County when, deputies said, Davis took a retired Lynx bus from the Central Florida Fairgrounds off West Colonial Drive. They said he proceeded to drive Route 39 almost as if he were a Lynx driver: He was on schedule and knew all the route's stops and turns.

But Johnson noticed things were not quite right. Riding close to the front of the bus, he noticed the driver looked too young and was not in uniform. Johnson instinctively looked for the bus security camera, and his heart sank. Only twisted wires hung from where the camera was supposed to be.

Davis is not old enough to have a drivers license; he turned 15 this month. But the teen did have some experience driving a bus: In January, he took a Mears tour bus and drove passengers without incident, authorities said. He was still serving probation for that stunt.

Saturday, records show, he went to the fairgrounds and broke into an area where retired Lynx buses are stored. The vehicles are destined for the auction lot and most have been stripped of accessories, thus the absence of any security.

"This is a chain-link area," Lynx spokesman Matthew Friedman said, adding that the area is kept locked.

The buses, Friedman said, do not require a key to start. He would not say how the suspect was able to get the bus going.

It's not clear whether the bus had gas before the escapade, but when the suspect was stopped in Seminole County the bus had plenty of fuel, Lt. Dennis Lemma of the Seminole Sheriff's Office said.

Johnson boarded the bus on Mills Avenue, a couple of blocks north of Colonial Drive, on his way to a barber in Eatonville. Another man boarded the bus right before him, and he said he heard Davis collect that fare.

"He asked him for the money, and told the guy he didn't have a fare box because he was new," Johnson said.

The passenger handed Davis the money and took a seat.

"Then he asked me for money, and I told him I had a week pass. He was like, 'Oh, OK.' But I thought it was odd," Johnson, 39, a security guard, said.

As soon as Johnson sat down, it dawned on him that the driver was much too young and was wearing street clothes.

"He looked as if he was barely 13. I mean, he was a kid," Johnson said.

Johnson called 911 and gave the operator the location of the bus, which had crossed into Seminole County. All the while, a third passenger had boarded and exited the bus, seemingly oblivious to the situation. The passenger who boarded with Johnson did not notice anything out of the ordinary, Lemma said.

When a Seminole deputy sheriff pulled the bus over near Casselberry, at St. Johns Circle and Oxford Road, the driver complied. He had been on the road for more than 30 minutes and gone on a 13-mile joyride, investigators said.

Davis' demeanor, Lemma said, was nonchalant.

"I drove that bus better than most Lynx drivers could," Davis told deputies, the incident report shows. "There isn't a scratch on it."

Since Saturday's ride, all Lynx buses at the fairgrounds have had their engines incapacitated, Friedman said.

"He drove Route 39," Friedman said. "It is absolutely surprising, but it won't happen again."

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