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Former employee kept keys for two years; stole blue bus

By Austen Hufford, Daily Staff Reporter
Published November 13, 2012

Antoine James, a former University bus driver who allegedly stole a University bus on Sept. 21, had kept his keys for two years after being fired from the University, a police report obtained by The Michigan Daily revealed.

In the early morning of Sept. 21, after all University bus routes had finished for the night, James, of Romulus, Mich., used his old employment keys to sneak into the University’s transportation lot. James proceeded to drive a University Blue Bus out the Parking and Transportation Services lot located on Kipke Drive just east of Michigan Stadium, and drove it along south State Street before merging onto Interstate 94.

As this was happening, a current University bus driver, Larry Skrdla, was pulled over by a University Police Officer for speeding on South State Street. The driver claimed he was only speeding in order to follow the stolen bus. The officer left the scene and began searching for James, who is also a former student.

The officer was able to locate the bus, and pulled it over at Huron Street and I-94 in Ypsilanti Township. James was arrested and charged with Unlawfully Driving Away an Automobile.

In the police report, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, a bus supervisor told the officer that James was fired by the University’s Transportation and Parking services two years ago. At first, James told the officer that he was on a “late run,” and had left his driver’s license with a friend, but later acknowledged that he was no longer an employee when confronted by the officer, who received information from bus supervisor through University dispatchers.

James acknowledged that he had not worked for the University for two years, but noted that his employment keys were not taken away upon his dismissal.

The report further states that James, who had alcohol in his system at the time, used the keys to enter the yard and take the bus. The manner in which James entered the bus lot was not previously made public.

James told the arresting officer he took the bus to relieve internal stress.

“It has been a stressful year looking for work, but hopefully that changes today,” James said to the judge at his preliminary hearing in the 14-A District Court on Oct. 4. “I was under a lot of stress.”

Normally the University confiscates keys from employees once they leave their jobs.

However, University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said there were “unusual circumstances” involved with this incident.

Fitzgerald declined to specify the unusual circumstances involved in the case but said Parking and Transportation Services is looking into what happened to minimize the chance of a similar incident occurring.

“(Parking and Transportation Services is) taking another look at their process as well as any additional security measures that they could take to be practical for their operations,” he said.

Over the last several years, the University has switched to using MCards instead of keys on many campus buildings including residence halls, classrooms, administrative offices and hospital buildings. Fitzgerald said MCard access is centrally controlled, making it much easier to regulate who has access to University buildings. When employees leave the University under the MCard system, their access to University buildings can be revoked electronically without having to collect former employees’ MCards.

Not every lock can feasibly be converted into a MCard reader, but the University is heading in that direction, Fitzgerald said.

James pleaded guilty to receiving and concealing stolen property — a lesser offense than what he was charged with — in October. He is scheduled to be sentenced next month.

Correction appended: Due to an editing error, a previous version of this article misstated how a University Police officer learned James was no longer an employee.