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Bus Driver to Undergo Psychiatric Evaluation

January 26, 2002|From Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA — A school bus driver accused of taking 13 children on a curious 160-mile "field trip" with a rifle next to him appeared in court on kidnapping charges Friday and was ordered to undergo a psychiatric evaluation.

Police also disclosed that they found 48 weapons in Otto Nuss' house, including a dozen handguns, as well as 75 rounds of ammunition on the bus.

At an appearance in federal court in Philadelphia, Nuss, 63, was ordered jailed for a hearing next week. Asked about his mental competence, Public Defender Felicia Sarner said: "I think there are clearly issues that need to be developed here."

Nuss surrendered Thursday just outside Washington after a six-hour odyssey during which he told the youngsters on his bus that he was taking them on a field trip to the nation's capital instead of delivering them to their Pennsylvania private school.

A friend said Nuss had been treated for psychiatric problems but had recently stopped taking his medication. He said Nuss collected guns.

School officials said this was Nuss' first year driving a bus for them and that he had passed criminal background and child-abuse checks. However, neither check looks into an applicant's mental health history.

In Pennsylvania, the Rev. Jim Smith offered prayers for Nuss at the service at a church next to the Berks Christian School in Birdsboro, northwest of Philadelphia.

"Right now, he is alone in a jail," Smith said. Students nodded in agreement, then bowed their heads in prayer as Smith talked about Nuss. "He really needs people to be praying for him."

About 200 students, including at least three who had been aboard the bus, attended the service, school administrator Robert Becker said.

The bus had picked up the students, ages 7 to 15, in Oley on Thursday morning for their daily six-mile trip to the school. When the bus failed to reach its destination, residents, a police helicopter and cruisers frantically searched the route. The trip ended at a discount store in Lanham, Md., where Nuss surrendered to an off-duty police officer.

"He said he wanted to show them Washington, D.C.," FBI spokesman Peter Gulotta Jr. said.

Students said they knew he had a gun behind his seat, but they played games, helped Nuss plan the route and felt at ease when he stopped the bus to treat them to lunch at a Burger King.

"He never touched anybody," said eighth-grader Josh Pletscher, 13. "We were having fun. We were having cars honk their horns."

Pletscher said that Nuss never touched the gun during the trip.

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