They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Especially if you're driving a school bus.
This morning, a 14-year-old St. Paul boy spotted an empty school bus parked at a Holiday station, hopped in, and drove off. But, he later told police, he was just trying to be helpful: He'd been watching the bus for 20 minutes, and it seemed abandoned. He wanted to return it to its owners, Centerline Charter, based a half-mile up the road.
Instead, he ended up three miles away, where Roseville police arrested him and took him to the Ramsey County Juvenile Detention Center.
The weirdest part: Before he kept going, he really did take the bus back to Centerline.
"If your intent is to steal, then why are you pulling into the transit center?" says Lt. Lorne Rosand, of the Roseville Police Department. "It's a head-scratcher."
The ride started not long before 8 a.m., when the boy got onto the empty bus, according to Rosand. He had a backpack with him, but police don't yet know if he was en route to school.
The bus's keys were in the ignition, and the boy put the vehicle into drive.
Meanwhile, police got a call alerting them to a stolen bus, and the bus's rightful driver called her boss at Centerline to tell him her bus had been taken. Not long after the manager got off the phone, the boy pulled the bus into the company's parking lot.
"My initial reaction was, 'No, he didn't,'" says Rosand. "But it was corroborated by the manager."
The boy, though, then heard voices on the bus's radio talking about him. He panicked, he later told police, and so he left the parking lot and kept on driving. The operations manager climbed into his truck and followed him.
A chase between the manager and the teen ensued, with the manager at one point pulling up next to the bus and yelling at the 14-year-old to stop driving. According to police, the boy violated several traffic laws, including running through a four-way stop and driving against traffic.
"The community is extremely fortunate that no one was injured," Rosand says.
Finally, after three miles, the boy turned into a Shell station in Roseville. There, he sideswiped a fuel island. The pause gave the Centerline manager enough time to stop him, and police arrived soon after.
The manager told police that the boy was crying, but unharmed. He's awaiting charges, and will likely be facing felony vehicle theft.
"You just don't hear about 14-year-olds taking school buses," says Rosand. "I've been doing this for 30 years, and this is the first."