Fort Mill Times

Police: School bus vandalism disrupts classes

Surveillance cameras at the Fort Mill High School bus lot captured images of vandals letting air of buses and as well as a suspicious Jeep Cherokee.
Surveillance cameras at the Fort Mill High School bus lot captured images of vandals letting air of buses and as well as a suspicious Jeep Cherokee.

More than 50 school buses were vandalized last Thursday, disrupting classes and leaving approximately 6,000 Fort Mill school bus riders stranded.

"The air was released from the front tires of the buses," Capt. Bryan Zachary of the Fort Mill Police Department said. "There was no other damage."

That makes police think that the incident that happened the night before may have been a stunt.

"There's some reason to believe that it may have been intended to be a prank," Zachary said. "Obviously, we don't consider it to be a prank."

No arrests have been made in the vandalism that occurred at the bus parking lot at Fort Mill High School at 225 Munn Road, Zachary said.

Instead, police on Thursday released surveillance video showing at least two men, one who is about six feet tall, in the bus lot tampering with the bus tires. That video shows the men were in the bus lot as early as 11:42 p.m. Wednesday, May 20.

"The taller of the two goes to one bus," Zachary said of the video footage. "He leans down to the front of the bus."

The video shows a second male run by a bus. When the two clear the lot, every bus except one has flat tires, officials said.

The video also shows two vehicles -- a Jeep Cherokee and a sports utility vehicle -- in the parking lot area just before the vandalism occurred. Authorities originally thought that one of the vehicles could have been an employee's car, Zachary said.

"We confirmed that neither vehicle belongs to a school employee or custodian," Zachary said of both vehicles. "Both are considered potential suspect vehicles."

Police believe both vehicles are blue or another dark color, he said.

A school district employee who was jogging in the bus lot noticed the vandalism around 5:30 a.m. Thursday, according a Web site maintained by the Fort Mill School District.

Sixty-one school buses had approximately 122 deflated ties, according to school officials and a report from the police department. Authorities said the men in the video let the air out of the bus tires by tampering with the valve stem.

"You have to screw them out," said Marc Vigeant, assistant transportation supervisor. "The only way you can get them off is to use a valve-removing tool and unscrew it. Anyone with any idea about tires could do it."

District officials alerted parents about the vandalism around 6 a.m. via an Alert-Now phone messaging system. Then, six local tire and wrecker services joined volunteers from Fort Mill's fire, rescue and emergency medical services to inflate the tires with air compressors, according to the district's Web site.

About three hours later, the entire bus fleet was back in service, Superintendent Keith Callicutt said. No students who ride the bus were counted as tardy, he said.

The school property and adjoining bus lot is periodically checked by police, Zachary said. However, the lot is not on the department's property check list, he said. It is not clear whether a police officer checked the bus lot Wednesday night or early Thursday morning.

At least one school official said that the suspects may have learned about the vandalism stunt from a popular cable TV show about high school pranks.

"Maybe we have a copy cat," Vigeant said.

After the vandalism was corrected, Callicutt offered a warning.

"If we find out who the culprits are, we will seek to punish them to the fullest extent of the law," he said.

If caught and convicted, the alleged vandals could face vandalism and disturbing school charges, Zachary said. Disturbing school carries up to a $1,000 fine and a 90-day jail sentence while vandalism carries up to 30 days and a court appointed fine, he said.

CrimeStoppers of York County is offering a $250 reward for information leading to the arrest of the alleged vandals. Anyone with information on the vandals or the vehicles should call the Fort Mill Police Department at 547-2022 or CrimeStoppers at 1-877-409-4321.