Darius McCollum (born 1965) is a New York resident with a lengthy arrest record for crimes related to trains and the New York City Subway system. As of 2010, he had spent more than a third of his life in jail for transit-related offences.
McCollum has been obsessed with trains from an early age, frequently riding various trains around New York for days at a time. His fixation with trains has led McCollum to frequently impersonate New York City Transit Authority (NYCTA) employees or a related entity (most recently, as an outside safety consultant) for which he has been jailed numerous times. McCollum has been rejected for employment by NYCTA on numerous occasions, although he is reported to know more about the trains, schedules, procedures and rail operations than any current employee.
McCollum is said to have memorized the subway system by age seven.
In 2000, McCollum "attempted grand larceny" by signing out a train according to proper NYCTA procedure to perform the customary duties (extinguishing track fires, supervising maintenance), and then signing it back in. He was sentenced to a minimum of 1/2 to 5 years in prison. In 2005, McCollum was apprehended at a Long Island Rail Road yard with the keys to an M-7 railroad car in his pocket. They had been given to him by his NYCTA friends who had given him their shifts, but he pleaded guilty to attempting to steal a locomotive and was sentenced to three years in prison. Although he was released from Sing Sing in 2006, he was reimprisoned for breaking parole after he was found in possession of railroad property.
On June 13, 2008, McCollum, now 43, was arrested again. He was wearing a hardhat and carrying a knapsack, flashlight and gloves with a Transit Authority logo. He was dressed in the blue T-shirt and work pants typically worn by track workers and was arrested as he tried to enter a restricted area of a midtown station. He was charged with criminal impersonation, criminal trespass and possession of burglary tools—a hammer and screwdriver tucked in his backpack. These 'burglary tools' are also the typical repair equipment that all NYCTA maintenance workers carry. When his mother was interviewed over the telephone, she claimed sadly that "any time Darius wears anything remotely resembling the transit uniform, he gets arrested" McCollum had been released from the Downstate Correctional Facility on July 3, 2007—nine months after his arrest for violating parole by returning to the city from Winston-Salem, N.C. He was arrested at Penn Station on October 5, 2008, for impersonating a Long Island Rail Road employee and answering passengers' questions.
On August 31, 2010, McCollum was arrested for the 27th time and charged with grand larceny and possession of stolen property in connection with the theft of a private bus from a Trailways of New York terminal in Hoboken, N.J. According to police, McCollum allegedly boarded the bus at approximately 6:30 A.M. that morning and discovered the keys left in the ignition. McCollum is accused of then commandeering the bus, with the theft reportedly going unnoticed for two hours as McCollum drove around JFK Airport and Jamaica, NY. McCollum was taken into custody without incident. Police stated McCullom is "very smart, he's not a dumb guy" and that he was a "gentleman" during arrest and processing. In 2013 McCollum pleaded guilty to stealing the bus. On December 24 of that year McCollum was released on parole and will voluntarily enter cognitive behavioral therapy. The terms of the parole which lasts until August 24, 2015 require he does not operate a motor vehicle.
By the mid-1990s, McCollum "had become a minor cult figure", particularly after the NYCTA posted thousands of wanted posters in trains and stations so that riders could report sightings. Occasionally, McCollum would appear as transit employees named "Morning" or "Manning", who riders invariably experienced as friendly and helpful. The newspapers frequently label him a "subway buff."
After McCollum used an insanity defense based on Asperger's, he became a folk hero to people with Asperger diagnoses, especially children, celebrated for his "rebellion against what autistics often call the dreary world of the 'neurotypicals'". In spite of his diagnosis from several psychiatrists, at least two criminal proceedings this defense was denied as the judge ruled he was "capable of controlling his impulses".
Although his parents, who have moved off to North Carolina, believe McCollum should leave New York to avoid the temptation of the trains, parole conditions have until recently repeatedly restricted McCollum to remain in New York City. Suggestions from his parents and autism advocates that the MTA find a way to hire McCollum in some capacity, in the manner of Frank Abagnale, are rejected by transit officials, who fear legal liability and anti-disability stigma.
A Harper's Magazine article on McCollum by Jeff Tietz was a finalist in profile writing for the 2003 American Society of Magazine Editors awards. At the 2003 Edinburgh Fringe, Paperhat Productions of New York mounted a play by Director Jude Domski called Boy Steals Train, based on McCollum's life and letters McCollum wrote to Domski, and described as "pointing a shaming collective finger at a judiciary that refuses to recognize Darius's condition". The play was awarded a Fringe First by The Scotsman and the troupe won a Best Ensemble Acting Award. His story was also made into a BBC radio play, broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in August 2005.
McCollum's story is featured and he personally appears in Episode 2 of "The Dark End of The Spectrum" - a 2-hour, 2 part, radio documentary that aired on CBC's radio show Ideas on June 2, 2008 and again on July 24 (Part 1) and July 31 (Part 2), 2009. In the piece, the author, Bernice Landry, explores how our understanding of autism has taken an about-face in recent years.
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