Bus driver Sheila Hart will remember the morning of Oct. 11, 2013 for the rest of her life.
“It is not something you plan for,” said Hart, recalling the school bus carjacking that took place on that day in Jacksonville. She and 11 Pinewood Elementary students were taken captive by a man carrying a knife who boarded and took control of the bus. “You go by instinct.”
Hart, a 20-year veteran of the Pulaski County Special School District and a Jacksonville resident, said she was a bit scared during the early moments of the bus carjacking. The incident started along the 1000 block of North First Street and concluded about 25 minutes later on Arkansas Highway 5 near the Mountain Springs Road exit in Cabot.
“You could tell by the look in his eye that something was not right,” Hart said. “He was looking around, looking at the back of the bus, paranoid someone was going to get him.”
Hart said she tried to be a calming presence to the alleged carjacker, Nicholas Miller, who faces numerous criminal charges from the incident.
“The children knew what was going on,” Hart said. “The children were scared and there was a little bit of crying. But I was trying to keep him calm.”
According to Hart the first three blocks of the trip through Jacksonville were the hardest, then Miller said he wanted to drive.
“When we switched, that was the closest his knife got to me,” Hart said. “But he was never threatening with the children.”
When Hart gave Miller the wheel she sat in a passenger seat close to Miller so she could keep an eye on him as well as the children.
It was a bumpy ride with Miller at the helm as he kept hitting curbs.
“I told him to be careful and when he would hit a curb he would apologize,” Hart said.
Hart said Miller told her he wanted to keep driving the bus until it ran out of gas.
Once he started driving he asked Hart for her cell phone. She said she took her cell phone out of its case, not handing him the entire case because she had a credit card there, and handed him the phone.
His first call was to his father but there was no answer.
“I think he tried calling his father four times,” Hart said.
Miller then gave her phone back to her and asked her to dial his mother’s number.
“He then talked to his mother,” Hart said.
Hart said she heard Miller’s conversation with his mother, saying he told her that he had carjacked a school bus with children and a bus driver and that he was using methamphetamines.
When Miller wasn’t making phone calls, Hart’s phone received a call from one of her friends. Miller answered the phone.
“Is your name Sheila?” Miller asked Hart.
Hart told Miller that was her name and he handed her the phone.
“He trusted me,” Hart said, saying her phone call was from her best friend.
“I didn’t give too many details of what was going on because I didn’t want to get him upset or nervous,” she said.
As the bus headed north to Cabot on Highway 5 Miller ended the ordeal because law enforcement personnel put spikes on the roadway.
Hart said she heard Miller say, “They dropped the f—-ing spikes out,” then he slowed the bus to a halt.
One armed policeman approached the stopped bus. Hart said she told Miller to put the brake on to make sure the bus stayed motionless.
“I didn’t want the police to think he was starting to move the bus again as they were approaching the bus to run over them,” Hart said.
When it became apparent that Miller was surrendering to police in front of the bus, Hart gathered the children to quickly leave through one of the vehicle’s emergency exits.
“I grabbed the boy in the front seat and told the kids, ‘Let’s go! Let’s go!” she said.
Once she was off the bus her cell phone rang. It appeared to be someone calling for Miller so she handed the phone to a policeman.
She said she was not sure who it was but suspects it was Miller’s father returning his son’s calls.
“I am just glad to be alive and I am glad all the children are safe,” Hart said, reflecting on the carjacking experience. “I am also glad he (Miller) wasn’t hurt, either. He is only 22 years old.”