Bus driver- 'Not totally involved' in alleged kidnapping of chi

Saturday, January 26, 2002

GREENBELT, Md. -- A Pennsylvania school bus driver accused of taking 13 children on a curious, 115-mile detour to Maryland with a loaded rifle by his side appeared in court on kidnapping charges Friday and told a magistrate he was "not totally involved" in the episode.

Otto Nuss, 63, agreed to be transferred to Philadelphia, where a hearing was scheduled for later in the day.

Police disclosed that they found 48 weapons in Nuss' house, including three dozen handguns, and 75 rounds of ammunition on the bus.

During a hearing in federal court in Greenbelt, U.S. Magistrate Charles B. Day asked Nuss whether he suffers from mental illness.

Nuss replied, "No sir, I'm not insane."

When Day asked Nuss if he understood the case against him, he said: "I'm not totally involved in it, is what I'm saying."

Nuss surrendered Thursday just outside Washington after a six-hour odyssey during which he told the youngsters from a Pennsylvania religious school that he was taking them on a field trip to the nation's capital.

A friend said Nuss had been treated for psychiatric problems and recently went off his medication. He said Nuss collected guns.

Public defender Daniel Stiller said after the hearing that Nuss believes that he is not totally responsible for bringing the children to Maryland and that there was a "setup." Stiller refused to elaborate.

"It's a sad case, not a sinister one," Stiller said.

First-year driver

School officials said this was Nuss' first year driving a bus for them and that he had passed criminal background and child-abuse checks. However, neither check looks into an applicant's mental health history.

In Pennsylvania, the Rev. Jim Smith offered prayers for Nuss at the service at the Exeter Bible Church, next to the Berks Christian School.

"Right now, he is alone in a jail," Smith said. Students nodded in agreement, then bowed their heads in prayer as Smith talked about Nuss. "He really needs people to be praying for him."

About 200 students, including at least three who had been aboard the bus, attended the service, school administrator Robert Becker said.

Eighth-grader Josh Pletscher said the older students on the bus had a "half-joking, half-serious" plan if the driver reached for the rifle behind his seat. He said they moved up front and sent the younger students to the back of the bus after noticing the gun.

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