NEW YORK – A man who has been arrested 30 times for stealing buses and trains may be taking a plea deal in his latest escapade that would send him to a mental institution.
Darius McCollum, 52, had been charged with criminal impersonation and grand larceny in his latest arrest, a 2015 case where he was caught behind the wheel of a Greyhound bus. He has told the AP he was feeling hopeless and depressed at the time.
McCollum has an autism spectrum disorder, which often includes repetitive behaviors and a difficulty with impulse control, and he has said he needs help. He doesn't want to plead guilty to any charge that will send him to prison and at one point said he would rather to go trial — his first ever.
At a contentious court hearing Wednesday, lawyers tried to hammer out the deal that started off with an offer of up to seven years behind bars, but may end with McCollum saying he is not guilty by reasons of mental defect and then being sent to a mental institution for treatment. They will return to court Monday.
At age 15, McCollum was caught driving a subway train only because someone noticed him. He had been letting off passengers and moving along the route from Penn Station to World Trade Center as if he were a transit worker.
His story has been in newspapers and magazines for decades. A documentary about his life, "Off the Rails," was released in 2016. A feature film, tentatively titled "Train Man" and to star Julia Roberts as McCollum's attorney, was in the works, but Roberts is no longer attached and the movie is now in limbo.
The attorney, Sally Butler, has been McCollum's lawyer since his last guilty plea for stealing a Trailways bus in 2010, and she has become something of a caretaker for him over the past five years.
Prosecutors on Wednesday suggested Butler had a vested interest in the seeing the case go to trial because of the feature film, and asked a judge to have another attorney present the plea deal to McCollum.
Butler was visibly upset by the suggestion.
"It simply isn't true," said.
Still, the judge asked another court-appointed attorney to go over the plea deal with him.