The Times West Virginian

Headline News

February 3, 2013

Alabama standoff drags on, town grieves over bus driver

MIDLAND CITY, Ala. — As the police standoff with an Alabama man accused of holding a 5-year-old boy hostage continued Saturday, a nearby community prepared to bury the beloved bus driver who was shot to death trying to protect children on his bus when the episode began days earlier.

Charles Albert Poland Jr., 66, who was known around town as Chuck, was described by folks in his hometown of Newton as a humble hero. Hundreds of people attended visitation services for Poland on Saturday evening. Mourners said they were proud of Poland for his act of selflessness, and for laying down his life for the children on the bus. His funeral was set for Sunday afternoon.

“I believe that if he had to do it all over again tomorrow, he would,” said Poland’s sister-in-law, Lavern Skipper, earlier Saturday. “He would do it for those children.”

Authorities said Jim Lee Dykes boarded a stopped school bus filled with 21 children Tuesday afternoon and demanded two boys between 6 and 8 years old. When Poland tried to block his way, the gunman shot him several times and took one 5-year-old boy — who police say remains in an underground bunker with Dykes.

Dale County Sheriff Wally Olson said in a briefing with reporters Saturday that Dykes has told them he has blankets and an electric heater in the bunker on his property. Authorities have been communicating with Dykes through a ventilation pipe to the underground bunker.

Olson also said Dykes has allowed police to deliver coloring books, medication and toys for the boy.

“I want to thank him for taking care of our boy,” Olson said. “That’s very important.”

The shooting and abduction took place in Midland City, a small town near Dothan, Ala., in the state’s southeastern corner.

Newton is about three miles away, a small hamlet with fewer than 2,000 residents. It sits amid cotton farms and rolling hills sprinkled with red earth; most of the residents commute to Dothan or to a nearby Army post.

Nearly everyone in Newton is planning to attend Poland’s visitation or funeral.

“He’s probably the nicest guy you’ll ever meet,” said Lonnie Daniels, the 69-year-old owner of the NAPA Auto Parts store, one of three establishments in town that was open Saturday.

Daniels last saw his friend Tuesday morning, when Poland agreed to buy a car from him. The two men shook hands and closed the deal “like gentlemen,” Daniels said. Poland was to return after working his bus route to pay for the car.

“He never came back,” Daniels said quietly.

Daniels said Poland had been married to his wife for 43 years. Poland was from Idaho, but his wife was from Newton. The couple lived there for decades in a small mobile home, and Poland enjoyed gardening and clearing brush from his property.

“I knew that he was always there if I needed,” said Daniels, adding that Poland was an excellent mechanic with an array of tools that he lent to people in town.

Neighbors and friends said Poland did various acts of kindness for people in town, from fixing someone’s tractor to tilling the garden of a neighbor who had a heart attack.

“You don’t owe me anything,” Poland once told a recipient of his good deed. “You’re my neighbor.”

Skipper said Poland and his wife would often sit on their porch, drinking coffee, praying and reading the Bible.

“They loved to be together,” Skipper said.

On Saturday morning, Poland’s wife wasn’t home. A rack of worn trucker’s caps sat on hooks on the porch, and two freshly baked pies were laid atop a cooler.

The victim’s son, Aaron Poland, told NBC News that he wasn’t surprised by his father’s act to protect the kids on the bus.

“He considered them his children,” Poland said, choking back tears. “And I know that’s the reason why my dad took those shots, for his children, just like he would do for me and my sister.”

As Newton grieves, residents are praying for the safe return of the boy being held hostage — and wondering about the man behind the abduction.

“We’d all like to get to him and say, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ “ said Gerald Harden, owner of a gun shop in Newton.

Harden said he checked his records to see whether Dykes had bought a firearm there, but records showed he hadn’t.

In Midland City, police were mostly staying mum about their talks with Dykes, — a Vietnam-era veteran known as Jimmy to his neighbors. Some have described him as a menacing figure with anti-government views.

One of Dykes’ next-door neighbors said the suspect spent two or three months constructing the bunker, digging several feet into the ground and then building a structure of lumber and plywood, which he covered with sand and dirt.

Neighbor Michael Creel said Dykes put the plastic pipe underground from the bunker to the end of his driveway so he could hear if anyone drove up to his gate. When Dykes finished the shelter a year or so ago, he invited Creel to see it — and he did.

“He was bragging about it. He said, ‘Come check it out,” Creel said.

He said he believes Dykes’ goal is to publicize his political beliefs.

“I believe he wants to rant and rave about politics and government,” Creel said. “He’s very concerned about his property.”

Police have used the pipe for communication and to deliver the boy medication for his emotional disorders. State Rep. Steve Clouse, who visited the boy’s mother, said the boy has Asperger’s syndrome — a mild form of autism — and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.

But police have not revealed how often they are in touch or what the conversations have been about.

Local officials who have spoken to police or the boy’s family have described a small room with food, electricity and a TV.

Sheriff Olson would not say Saturday whether Dykes has made any demands. Olson added that he is limited in the details he can release.

FBI spokesman Jason Pack said Saturday that officials were working to establish a command center near the bunker.

Dykes had been scheduled to appear in court Wednesday to answer charges he shot at his neighbors in a dispute last month over a speed bump.

1
Text Only
Headline News
  • Supreme Court: Michigan affirmative action ban OK

    A state’s voters are free to outlaw the use of race as a factor in college admissions, the Supreme Court ruled Tuesday in a blow to affirmative action that also laid bare tensions among the justices about a continuing need for programs that address racial inequality in America.

    April 23, 2014

  • Court critical of law punishing campaign lies

    The Supreme Court appears to be highly skeptical of laws that try to police false statements during political campaigns, raising doubts about the viability of such laws in more than 15 states.

    April 23, 2014

  • U.S.: Russia has ‘days, not weeks’ to follow by an international accord for Ukraine

    Russia has “days, not weeks” to abide by an international accord aimed at stemming the crisis in Ukraine, the top U.S. diplomat in Kiev warned Monday as Vice President Joe Biden launched a high-profile show of support for the pro-Western Ukrainian government. Russia in turn accused authorities in Kiev of flagrantly violating the pact and declared their actions would not stand.

    April 22, 2014

  • U.S. weighing military exercises

    The United States is considering deploying about 150 soldiers for military exercises to begin in Poland and Estonia in the next few weeks, a Western official said Saturday. The exercises would follow Russia’s buildup of forces near its border with Ukraine and its annexation last month of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.

    April 21, 2014

  • Ukraine, Russia trade blame for shootout

    Within hours of an Easter morning shootout at a checkpoint manned by pro-Russia insurgents in eastern Ukraine, Russia’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement blaming militant Ukrainian nationalists and Russian state television stations aired pictures of supposed proof of their involvement in the attack that left at least three people dead.

    April 20, 2014

  • Governor: Closing Boston amid bomber hunt ‘tough’

    Several days after the Boston Marathon bombing, Gov. Deval Patrick received a call in the pre-dawn hours from a top aide telling him that police officers outside the city had just engaged in a ferocious gun battle with the two men suspected of setting the bombs and that one was dead and the other had fled.

    April 20, 2014

  • Everest avalanche reminder of risks Sherpas face

    The rescuers moved quickly, just minutes after the first block of ice tore loose from Mount Everest and started an avalanche that roared down the mountain, ripping through teams of guides hauling gear.
    But they couldn’t get there quickly enough.

    April 20, 2014

  • Colorado deaths stoke worries about pot edibles

    A college student eats more than the recommended dose of a marijuana-laced cookie and jumps to his death from a hotel balcony. A husband with no history of violence is accused of shooting his wife in the head, possibly after eating pot-infused candy.

    April 19, 2014

  • Everest avalanche kills at least 12

    An avalanche swept down a climbing route on Mount Everest early Friday, killing at least 12 Nepalese guides and leaving four missing in the deadliest disaster on the world’s highest peak. Several more were injured.

    April 19, 2014

  • Diplomacy doesn’t move insurgents in Ukraine

    Pro-Russian insurgents defiantly refused Friday to surrender their weapons or give up government buildings in eastern Ukraine, despite a diplomatic accord reached in Geneva and overtures from the government in Kiev.

    April 19, 2014

House Ads
Featured Ads