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Passengers of Hijacked Bus Describe 5 Hours of Terror

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Passengers aboard a commandeered Greyhound bus huddled in horror as the crazed driver took drugs, sang verses of “Jesus Loves Me” and cursed at police helicopters that chased him 320 miles from Phoenix to the San Bernardino area, several passengers and relatives said Friday.

Some passengers opened windows in the restroom and rear of the bus, but were unable to escape during the five-hour ordeal because the bus was traveling at high speeds.

“We were all prepared for him to drive right off the bridges on the interstate,” said Rebecca Nicholson in a telephone interview from her home in Moorhead, Minn. “I was hungry, but I didn’t dare go to the front of the bus and get my food. I was deathly scared.”

Nicholson was one of eight passengers aboard St. Louis-bound Greyhound Bus 1647 when it was commandeered by Reynaldo Andrade Gonzalez in the Phoenix bus terminal early Thursday. Gonzalez, an unemployed driver from Colton, led police on the chase that ended with police shooting him to death in the driveway of his home. None of the passengers were injured.

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One passenger tried to persuade Gonzalez to slow down and free the terrified hostages, but when Gonzalez saw police helicopters he became angry and pushed the accelerator to the floor, passengers said.

“You don’t want to kill me! Kill the cops behind me! They are the bad ones!” Nicholson quoted Gonzalez as shouting over the bus intercom at the aircraft. “Jesus wants them to die!”

Roy Moore III, 18, of Warwick, R. I. sat in the front seat next to Gonzalez, talking to him during most of the ordeal. Roy Moore Jr. said his son watched the driver “popping pills all the way” and feared that the driver might lose control of the bus, which reached speeds of more than 80 m.p.h.

Authorities said Friday that Gonzalez had a history of taking amphetamines, a stimulant taken by some truckers and others who regularly embark on all-night rides. Gonzalez was a charter bus driver, and had worked as a school bus driver and a truck driver for a beer distributor, relatives said.

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Other passengers said they worried that Gonzalez was going to pass out. James Dean Peterson, 19, of Waseca, Minn. said he sat on the edge of his seat, ready to dart to the steering wheel if Gonzalez lost control.

Passengers said they only whispered to one another, afraid to draw attention. Five passengers sat clustered near the back of the bus, while the other three sat in the front three rows.

“When we started heading to California and he was singing about evil spirits, I knew something was wrong,” said Rose Robertson, 52, of St. Louis. “I just started praying. I still feel like I am cold.”

On taped messages left at his family’s home, Gonzalez, calling from Phoenix, repeatedly alluded to demons and Satan, said Sgt. Larry Brown of the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department.

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“He said he was possessed by demons. He also said everyone was looking at him like he was crazy,” Brown said. “He made a statement that Satan had him, that Satan had entered his mind.”

Gonzalez also indicated in telephone messages that he had apparently managed to exorcise Satan, at least for now, Brown said.

The eight passengers aboard the bus had left San Bernardino County by Friday morning, Greyhound officials said. Peterson flew out Thursday night, while the others spent the evening in a hotel, spokeswoman Liz Dunn said.

Greyhound reimbursed passengers for the cost of their bus tickets from Phoenix to St. Louis and paid for their hotel stays and return trip tickets, Dunn said. All but one of the passengers chose to fly home. Only French postal worker Jean Maurice Henry, on a two-week vacation in the United States, got back on a Greyhound bus.

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Murphy reported from Los Angeles. McDonnell reported from San Bernardino.


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