Prison looms for train-obsessed autistic man – Darius McCollum

January 6, 2016 5:35 am

 Darius McCollum, now 50, first commandeered a train at age 15. Photo / AP

Darius McCollum’s addiction isn’t for booze and pills – it’s for buses and trains.
The
transit impostor who first commandeered a train at age 15 has
been arrested 30 times over the years for transit-related crimes. Most
recently, he was nabbed in November behind the wheel of a Greyhound bus
that officials say he had stolen from New Jersey.
Now McCollum,
who is 50 and has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, is
worried what will happen to him next. He says the obsession that’s put
him behind bars for half his adult life is out of his control. He says
he needs help.
“I can’t seem to get myself out of this on my
own,” he said at Rikers Island jail. “But what am I supposed to do?
There’s no AA for buses or trains.”
If he were a drug user,
there’d be substance abuse treatment. If he were violent, there’d be an
anger-management class. Even if he had been accused of a sex crime,
there would be therapy available for him.

“We applied for everything, sought help everywhere, but
there’s just nothing,” said his lawyer, Sally Butler. “This isn’t how he
should be treated. He shouldn’t be behind bars.”
McCollum’s story has become the stuff of New York folklore.
He
grew up in Queens, near the 179th Street subway station, and would go
there after school; conductors and other train operators got to know
him. He says he soaked up information, including memorising the subway
map by age 8, but he never quite understood the social rules, a hallmark
of his then-undiagnosed disorder.
At 15, he managed to drive an E
train from 34th Street – his favourite subway station – six stops to
the World Trade Centre without any passengers noticing. It started the
cycle he’s been in for years.
He’s posed as a transit worker,
collected fares, fixed broken tracks, operated subway trains and
regional rail lines and driven commuter buses. It wasn’t until after his
2010 arrest for taking a bus on a cross-state joyride that he was
diagnosed with autism.
He has been the subject of numerous articles, a play and a documentary. A feature film on his life is currently in production.
“I’m
too functional in some ways,” he said. “I can cook. I can clean. I can
take care of myself. I can get a job. No one knows what to do with me.”
Over
the years, McCollum has worked in construction, as a mail room clerk
and in fast-food, but he always lost the job because of the siren call
of the train yards – he prefers trains to buses.
His latest
arrest on charges of criminal impersonation and grand larceny could
bring him 15 more years behind bars if convicted. Says McCollum: “I
can’t spend any more of my life in jail.”

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