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Compulsive Subway Imposter to Plead Insanity

By Elaine Cassel

From the time he was a young boy, Darius McCollum, now 35, has been fascinated with the subways in his New York City neighborhood. His mother said that he frequently disappeared from home and she would find him in the subway. She couldn't keep him home, and the transit workers couldn't keep him out. At first, transit authorities thought of him more as a boy scout or a nuisance, not a danger. He was always looking for ways to help riders and workers. Sometimes when he went too far, like sporting an authentic badge and ID card that did not belong to him, he was charged with minor misdemeanors, convicted, and served a few days jail time.

But now Darius may have taken his fascination with trains too far. In August 2000, after pulling a subway emergency brake during rush hour and then coming to the rescue as a fake supervisor who got the train running again, he was charged with the felony of impersonating a transit worker. For the first time in all his brushes with the law, his court-appointed attorney is going to put Darius' mental condition at issue and plead insanity.

Darius has a history of psychiatric problems that began at the age of ten, after a student in his special education class stabbed him in the back with a pair of scissors. After that he refused to sit at a desk unless his back was against the wall. He had psychiatric treatment and counseling and was placed in several special schools. Ten years ago when Darius moved with his parents to New Carolina, Darius stole a car to get back to New York and the subway and was convicted and served time in a North Carolina prison for car theft. Nothing, it seems, could dampen his obsession for trains; his compulsion to be involved with them continued unabated.

Darius says he can't explain his fascination with the subway, though he admits he likes the attention, the activity, the noise, the people--and the trains. He says he just likes the way they "work." A police investigator says that Darius has been around the subway so long that he knows all the terminology and knows how to operate the equipment. His father likens him to an alcoholic or a drug addict who first has to admit he has a problem in order to be helped.

Because he is aware of his behavior and its wrongfulness, it is unlikely that Darius's insanity plea will be successful. In the meantime, his parents refuse to post his bail, leaving him incarcerated pending his trial. His fiancÚ, whom he met on a subway platform, has called off the wedding.

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