Sheriff: Fort Jackson soldier who hijacked school bus attempted to escape from jail
COLUMBIA, S.C. (Tribune News Service) — A Fort Jackson soldier charged in the May 6 hijacking of a Richland County school bus loaded with children will likely face new charges connected to a failed attempt to escape from jail.
Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said Jovan Collazo assaulted a guard and tried to escape from the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center earlier this month.
During the escape attempt, Collazo broke his ankle and was taken to a local hospital, where he also tried to escape, the sheriff said.
"We have additional charges that we'll eventually be placing on him," Lott said.
Fielding Pringle, Collazo's defense attorney, told The State newspaper on Thursday that the incident involving Collazo was not a true escape attempt. It took place while he was handcuffed, on suicide watch, had no clothes on and were the actions of "a highly troubled young man," she said.
"People who are thinking clearly and normally do not run around jail dorms completely naked with their hands cuffed behind their back running into locked steel doors and jumping from the second tier to the floor below," said Pringle, chief public defender for the 5th Judicial Circuit.
"These are not the actions of a healthy and clear-minded individual who is trying to escape. They are the actions of a very troubled young man who was on suicide watch at the time," Pringle said.
The entire incident took place within a secure housing unit of the jail, Pringle said. "There was no possibility of escape."
Pringle declined to elaborate but her description of her client, who is now wearing a cast, raised the possibility of a defense involving some kind of assertion of mental illness. Up to now, no clear motive for Collazo's behavior has been made public.
Collazo is charged with 19 counts of kidnapping. That includes the school bus driver, Kenneth Corbin, and 18 elementary school children. Neither the children nor the bus driver was physically harmed. Some of the children are reportedly suffering trauma.
Early on the morning of May 6, Collazo — who was 23 and in his third week of basic training — slipped off post wearing his physical training exercise clothes and made his way to a location near Percival Road, where he managed to board a Richland School District 2 bus loaded with 18 school children bound for Forest Lake Elementary School, Sheriff Lott told reporters that day.
At the time, no one knew the rifle, an M4, was not loaded.
Collazo held Corbin and the children at gunpoint and ordered him to drive, on-bus video from the incident showed. Eventually the suspect let the driver and the Forest Lake Elementary School students get off the bus, then drove away, Lott said. Collazo later abandoned the bus and was arrested.
The incident prompted a change in policy at Fort Jackson, the nation's largest U.S. Army basic training post, whereby new recruits were supposed to have their weapons with them in a program called "weapons immersion training." That policy is no longer in effect.
Fort Jackson commanding officer, Brig. Gen. Milford Beagle Jr., issued a statement saying, "We truly regret this incident and the effect it is having on our community."
Fort Jackson issued a statement saying its goal is "to determine how this happened and what actions are needed to prevent it in the future."
An incident report in the alleged jail escape attempt, part of which Lott read to The State, says that Collazo was being moved to a restraint chair and had his hands cuffed behind his back. Collazo pushed the guard away, ran for an exit door, then up some stairs to a higher floor where guards closed in on him. At that point, Collazo got up on a railing and jumped to the floor below where he landed on his feet and then his side, the report said. At that point, EMS medics arrived on the scene.
Lott said Collazo also tried to escape from his hospital bed but was quickly restrained.
On May 6, Lott told reporters after the incident, Collazo tried to flag down cars on Interstate 77 before heading to Eagle Park Drive and Percival Road, where he saw a bus picking up children at a bus stop.
Along with the children, the soldier got onto the bus and told the driver he didn't want to hurt anybody and wanted to be taken to the next town, according to Lott.
With the bus on the move, the soldier brought the children to the front of the bus, where they began to frustrate him with lots of questions, Lott said.
The soldier soon had the driver stop near Alpine and Percival roads and allowed the children and the driver to get off, Lott said. The soldier drove off a couple miles, but soon abandoned the bus and left his rifle on board at the intersection of Quincy and Old Percival roads. The soldier had difficulty driving the bus, according to the sheriff.
State real time reporter Noah Feit contributed.
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