N. Georgia man admits to stealing school bus - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

N. Georgia man admits to stealing school bus

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FORT OGLETHORPE, GA. (WRCB) -- A man's trip home from jail landed him back behind bars. When he was tired of walking, he stole a school bus.

Jonathan Cole Collins now faces a felony charge for the theft. If convicted he could face a year behind bars or a $1,000 fine.

His ride in the bus lasted only about eight miles, starting on Battlefield Parkway in Catoosa County and ending on Chattanooga Valley Road in Flintstone.

Eighteen-year-old Jonathan Cole Collins had just been released from the Catoosa County Jail last Sunday on a misdemeanor marijuana charge, and didn't have a ride.

So, he started the around 9.5 mile walk to his home in Flintstone, but then he told detectives, he was tired and cold, and had an idea.

Collins' idea was to stop walking and steal a Catoosa County school bus parked at Lakeview - Fort Oglethorpe High School overnight.

"The driver had hidden the key there for a substitute to find in the morning," Catoosa County Schools Director of Operations Doug Suits says.

"He said I just didn't want to walk anymore and decided to drive the bus," Fort Oglethorpe Detective James Leamon says. "He cranks the bus, which activates the camera."

What he didn't plan for was a camera catching him in the act.

He only stopped once to try to close the door, but failed. Debris was blowing around and it wasn't keeping him warm, the whole reason he says he stole it.

"There's the lever that would've made the door shut," Det. Leamon says.

But he missed that lever and the camera, despite searching with a flashlight. He drove for 20 minutes from Battlefield Parkway to Chattanooga Valley Elementary School in Walker County.

"Exactly 20 minutes later, he looks around," Det. Leamon says.

Collins says he thought abandoning it there would look less suspicious, but Walker County detectives identified him from the video, Ft. O police confronted him the next day, and he admitted to the whole thing.

"Tremendous relief, absolutely, when we found the bus was in tact and no one had been harmed," Suits says.

Catoosa County Schools is now changing its policy for transferring keys among bus drivers to avoid future thefts.

"They kept it under some things, in a cup holder under a cup, kind of inconspicuously, but of course, those practices, we don't do that anymore at all," Suits says.

Collins faces a felony theft charge for his 20 minute ride on the $40,000 bus.

"He's only 18, and it'll never come off of his record," Det. Leamon says.

Collins is still in the Catoosa County Jail for his felony theft by taking charge on a $5,000 bond.

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