Coats, N.C. — Five people have been charged with a variety of offenses after a group tried to commandeer a Harnett County school bus on Wednesday afternoon, authorities said Thursday.
Twenty-five Triton High School students were aboard the bus, and local authorities credited the quick thinking by bus driver Sha-Wana Cameron for ensuring that no one was injured.
The incident began when Cameron made a routine stop at the intersection of Ebenezer Church Road and Forever Lane outside Coats at about 3:15 p.m. Wednesday, Harnett County Sheriff Larry Rollins said.
A fight broke out between two students, Pedro Gonzales and Jose Gonzales, and two men left a Chevrolet Aveo parked nearby and tried to board the bus, Rollins said. The Gonzaleses aren't related.
Cameron slammed the door on the men to prevent them from boarding and drove off. As she was pulling away from the curb, Pedro Gonzales opened the emergency exit at the back of the bus and jumped out, Rollins said.
“The bus driver was upset. The children were upset. The bus driver did an outstanding job keeping those people off the bus,” Coats Police Chief Eddie Jaggers said.
The two men ran back to the Aveo and, together with two other men, followed the bus toward Coats, Rollins said.
"They, at one time, pulled in front of her trying to stop her, and she (went) around them," the sheriff said. "During the course of it, she has then got in her mind, 'Well, I've got to get assistance.' So, she calls with her cell phone to our 911 center."
Patricia Harmon-Lewis, a spokeswoman for Harnett County Schools, said the men brandished a metal pipe during the chase, which went on for about 2 miles before the Aveo turned down a side road outside the Coats town limits. Cameron then drove the bus to the police station.
"(Some witnesses gave us) statements that it was a pipe. Some said it was a bat. Some said it was a shotgun," Rollins said.
A Harnett County deputy and Coats police officer found an Aveo on Abattoir Road that matched the description of the one chasing the bus and arrested four men.
Roger Rodrigues, 20, of 158 Sweet Jenny Lane in Lillington, Ismael Gonzales, 21, of 409 Forever Lane, Richard Gonzales, 18, of 240 Forever Lane, and Edgar Ochoa, 17, of 358 Forever Lane, all of Coats, were each charged with attempted kidnapping, armed to the terror of the people, impeding a school bus and pattern of gang activity.
They were being held Thursday in the Harnett County jail under $200,000 bonds.
Deputies found a 12-gauge shotgun in the car, but it was unclear if it was ever brandished during the incident, Rollins said.
Ismael and Richard Gonzales are the older brothers of Pedro Gonzales, investigators said. Ochoa is a Triton High student, they said.
Jose Gonzales, 17, of 84-D Oak Dale Mobile Home Park in Coats, was charged with simple affray. He was being held under a $15,000 bond, and authorities said he likely will face other charges.
Deputies were searching Thursday for Pedro Gonzales, who is wanted on a charge of simple affray.
Rollins said at least two of the men in the car admitted to being members of a gang, and both he and Jaggers said the incident appears to be gang-related.
The men in the car were trying to retaliate against Jose Gonzales, who is a member of a rival gang, Jaggers said.
Rollins said the men apparently weren't aware that Pedro Gonzales had already jumped out of the back of the bus when they decided to pursue the bus.
"Had they been able to get on the bus, I'm sure it could have been a lot worse than what we have," Rollins said. "In talking with all the students, (Cameron) was very composed during the event and was always in control."