A passenger in the back of a Greyhound bus on Interstate 95 in Howard County yesterday noticed a stowaway in the bus's bathroom and mentioned it to a fellow rider. There's "a bum" in the restroom, is how the passenger put it.
Someone else, overhearing the remark, passed it along, and word spread among the 30 or so others on board.
"A bum in the bathroom."
"A bum . . . "
A BOMB IN THE BATHROOM!
The driver, Charles Boyer, heard this and slammed on the brakes. Passengers scrambled for the door as Boyer waved to a state trooper for help.
And before the mess got straightened out, police said they had closed the highway's southbound lanes for about two hours, stalling traffic for 15 miles. Investigators searched the bus with a bomb-sniffing dog as the passengers, who had been herded along the median strip, watched from a quarter-mile away.
"Just one of those things," said Trooper Gregory Taylor, after piecing together the details of the episode.
Taylor was on foot, watching traffic for an I-95 construction crew just north of Route 32 in Savage, when he noticed Greyhound bus 6636 coming his way shortly after 12:30 p.m. He said the driver "was waving out the window to me as he pulled over near the barrier."
The passengers started pouring off. "I thought maybe somebody was on there with an Uzi or something," Taylor said.
Then he heard talk of a bomb, and saw fingers pointing at the man from the bathroom, who had bailed out with the others.
Taylor said he handcuffed the suspect, who declined to answer questions, and called for help. After about 45 minutes of talking with passengers, officials suspected that a mistake had been made, Taylor said. But out of an abundance of caution, they kept searching for a bomb.
The bus, headed for a stop in Silver Spring, was back on its way shortly before 2:30 p.m. Taylor said the accused stowaway, Oliver Martin, 61, a homeless man from Philadelphia, had boarded in Baltimore.
He was charged with misdemeanor theft for allegedly trying to avoid the price of a ticket between the two points: $8.
"He had 35 cents in his pocket," Taylor said. "All he wanted to do was go for a ride somewhere."