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Woman helps kids, bus driver stranded after Columbia school bus hijacking

Sonya Brailsford said she saw the driver and the kids standing on the side of the road and knew something wasn't right.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Sonya Brailsford knew something was wrong when she saw a group of kids and one man huddle together along the side of the road on her Thursday morning commute.

She was traveling on her regular route on Percival Road in Columbia when she saw them and felt something was off. It turned out, they'd all been aboard a school bus that had been hijacked. 

RELATED: 6 minutes of trauma: Sheriff says bus hijacking suspect pointed gun at students, driver

"Just as a parent, I knew something's not right so I passed by and something divinely in me said 'turn around.' I think it was the mom in me and I said oh my goodness what would I want someone to do."

RELATED: Superintendent on bus hijacking: 'Your mind takes you to the worse case scenario'

As soon as she got out, the man--who was the school bus driver--told her "I've been hijacked ma'am. The bus has been hijacked and I need help."

Richland County deputies say a trainee at nearby Ft. Jackson, identified as 23-year-old Jovan Collazo  had run away from the base early Thursday morning. His goal, the sheriff said, was to get to another town. 

The man is accused of going aboard the bus with his military rifle, pointing it at the bus driver, and demanding for the man to drive. He eventually let the 18 students and the driver off after getting frustrated when the students started asking questions, Sheriff Leon Lott said. 

When she found them, it was only 8 or 9 minutes after they'd gotten off the vehicle. The driver had to leave his cell phone on the bus, so they had no way to call for help. 

"They were pretty much in shock," she said. "I don't think they realized the type of danger they were in."

She put on her hazard light and called dispatch and put on her car's hazard lights to alert other drivers to the problem. A state trooper stopped by a few minutes later.

RELATED: 'God looked down on these kids:' Sheriff thankful school bus hijacking ended peacefully

"I'm just glad that I came by at that particular time so that I could be a vessel to help them," she said. 

She said some of the students were crying, and both she and the driver were comforting them. She was impressed at how calm, cool, and collected the driver was. 

"He was able to keep his composure and do what the suspect indicted he needed to do," Brailsford said.

Richland County deputies arrested Collazo a few minutes later after he got off the bus and ran away. He's facing multiple kidnapping charges, among other counts. 

"Across America we've been seeing a lot of tragedy so I'm just glad that Columbia's not added to that list today," she said. 


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