Police Stop Bus in New Jersey After Driver's Taliban Remark
By THOMAS J. LUECK
It was apparently meant as a joke.
But when the frustrated driver of a New York-bound Greyhound bus got on his public address system yesterday in central New Jersey and told his passengers, "We're going to the Taliban, don't worry about it," the remark provoked little laughter, several cellphone calls and a huge police response.
The incident came to an end quietly and without injury shortly before 9 p.m. in Marlboro, when 30 passengers who had boarded the bus from Philadelphia to Manhattan's Port Authority Bus Terminal resumed their trip with a substitute driver.
The original driver, Robert Mickens, 37, of Brooklyn, who had been ordered off the bus at gunpoint, was charged with disorderly conduct and later released, according to the Marlboro Township Police Department. His future with Greyhound remained unclear, and a company spokeswoman, Jamille Bradfield, said it would "implement appropriate action, pending an investigation."
According to the police and several passengers on the bus, Mr. Mickens's remark came after an exchange with several passengers who questioned him about the route he was taking to New York.
After making a routine stop in Mount Laurel and returning to Greyhound's normal route to Manhattan along the New Jersey Turnpike, Mr. Mickens encountered heavy holiday-weekend traffic, and sought a shortcut by leaving the turnpike at Exit 8 near Hightstown.
From there, he drove less heavily traveled roads through Manalapan, Freehold and Marlboro. Ms. Bradfield said his decision to seek an alternate route did not violate Greyhound policy.
But among the passengers, his decision inspired questions, and even complaints.
"He openly lost his temper, and made a comment he shouldn't have made," said Capt. Brian Hall of the Marlboro Township police. "The remark was especially inappropriate in today's world."
Sally Weisbrot, 30, a passenger who was headed home to New York, said: "It was a joke that got blown out of proportion, ridiculously so. But it's better to be safe than sorry."
The police were not about to treat the matter as a joke. Within moments after the first cellphone alerts from passengers, more than a dozen police cars converged on the Greyhound, which Mr. Mickens brought to a stop on Route 9 near Marlboro.
Mr. Mickens put up no resistance, the police said. Officers on the scene ordered passengers off the bus, and inspected it with a bomb-sniffing dog.
With Mr. Mickens removed in handcuffs, and with the passengers back on board, the bus was then driven to the Marlboro Town Hall. Shortly after 9 p.m., they were again on their way to New York.
As he boarded the bus, Nate Smith, 23, a passenger heading home to Manhattan, described his reaction to Mr. Micken's remark.
"I thought the odds were high that he was joking," he said. "But it was still hard not to be concerned, and I was happy to see someone call 911."