school bus stock

A Baton Rouge preschool program said Monday that a school bus taken on a joy ride by an 11-year-old boy was not stolen from its Scotlandville campus, and police determined late in the day that the vehicle actually belonged to someone else and had been taken from private property 2 miles away from the school.

The unlocked bus, stolen by an 11-year-old boy and driven around town with police in hot pursuit Sunday morning — was taken from property in the 300 block of Elmer Avenue. The bus' owner used to subcontract with the Progress Head Start preschool, but has since died.

Baton Rouge police initially reported that the school bus came from Progress Head Start, based on some object inside the vehicle that referenced the program. Police spokesman Sgt. L'Jean McKneely Jr. said the bus was unlocked and had a push start button, meaning no key was required.

He didn't provide additional details about when or how the owner died.

McKneely said the Head Start program had denied being the point of origin, and investigators later determined the bus was taken from Elmer Avenue. A spokesperson for East Baton Rouge schools said only that the school system does not own the bus.

The boy who stole it led officers on a long police chase that started in Scotlandville and ended in Central late Sunday morning when he crashed into a tree. 

The child was so small that he apparently had to stand up to reach the pedals, McKneely said. He added that at one point, the boy reached his hand out the window and made an obscene gesture toward pursuing officers. The child's name isn't being reported because he's a juvenile.

McKneely said the chase lasted over a half hour and included several attempts to stop the bus, including when officers placed spike strips in the road. The boy spotted the spike strips and swerved to avoid them, McKneely said. At least 10 officers were involved in the chase, some stationed at intersections to stop traffic. 

Once the bus finally crashed to a halt on Greenwell Springs Road, the boy heeded commands to come out and willingly answered questions from officers. He was placed in handcuffs standing outside the bus — an image that some critics found unsettling given the child's small stature and apparent compliance with police. McKneely said it's standard procedure for officers to handcuff anyone over age 10, the cutoff for being booked into the parish juvenile detention center. 

He said officers have been in touch with the child's parents. It's not known whether he has been released from juvenile detention.


Email Lea Skene at lskene@theadvocate.com.