Serial public transit thief Darius McCollum, who has been arrested dozens of times for stealing buses and trains, plead guilty on Friday after stealing a Greyhound Bus from the Port Authority Bus Terminal earlier this week. McCollum, 50, was sent to Rikers Island without bail, where he will undergo a psychiatric evaluation to determine his fitness to testify before a grand jury.
As that evaluation will likely reveal, McCollum is autistic. His mother told the New York Times in 2008 that she has fallen into debt by repeatedly hiring lawyers to defend him. An obsession with trains, buses, and other transportation vehicles is actually quite common among those on the autism spectrum, though McCollum acts on his to an unusual extent.
At his arraignment Friday, McCollum's attorney, Sally Butler, attributed her client's crime to stress, saying that his attempts to find employment were failing and that he was on the verge of homelessness at the time of the theft.
"That's where he really has difficulties, when he gets scared, and any person facing homelessness without a dime in their pocket is going to be scared," Butler said at the arraignment.
If anything, Butler said, it should be a wake-up call to the city that McCollum has been able to steal trains and buses so easily over the years.
"We have terrorists. Terrorists," she said. "And this guy that's functioning in the level of a 10-year-old is able to allegedly take a bus."
She told the New York Post before the hearing:
The city should be embarrassed if these allegations are true. Shame on them. What if they acknowledge what skill he has and utilize it? Here&'s a guy that obviously they need some help from, and instead, he's going to be sitting in Rikers Island for a couple years wasting everyone's money.
McCollum would be happy to walk law enforcement officials through the weaknesses in the transit system, Butler told the tabloid, and he's actually done it before, helping the NYPD, state police, and the FBI. McCollum told the Daily News in 2010 that his ideal job would be in counter-terrorism:
"If I can get away with it, anyone can," he said then. "They should've been smarter...I could teach them how to stop stuff like this from happening."