Sheila Hart said wasn't thinking about herself when a man wielding a knife boarded her school bus Thursday morning. She was only worried about the 11 children she was taking to Pinewood Elementary School.
Because of her actions, 51-year-old Hart was honored along with several civilians and members of the Arkansas State Police by the city of Jacksonville and the Pulaski County Special School District in a Wednesday afternoon ceremony at the PCSSD Bus Depot.
Hart was given a key to the city, a $100 gift card to Chili's — her favorite restaurant — as well as a check for $1,000 from an anonymous donor.
"I appreciate it," Hart said. "I'm enjoying all this, but I'm ready to get back and keep my babies safe."
Hart, who has driven buses for the district for more than 20 years, said she was pulling up to her "third or fourth stop" around 7:20 a.m. when a man, later identified as Nicholas John Miller, 22, boarded the bus, pulled out a knife and told her to drive on North First Street.
"He said 'shut the door and drive,'" Hart said. "So that's what I did."
Hart said after she drove the bus a few blocks, Miller took the wheel and the police chase ensued soon after.
Karlena Lipari, a parent at the stop where Miller got on the bus, said Miller approached her before the hijacking and asked if she had a car. When Lipari said she didn't, Miller told her that "it would be in her best interest" to take him to her car. She again denied she had a car as the bus pulled up. Lipari called 911 after Miller took control of the bus.
For her involvement, Lipari was awarded a certificate of appreciation from PCSSD Superintendent Jerry Guess. Walker said she's a bit uneasy about walking the children to the bus stop after Thursday's events, and added that her husband has been walking with her this week.
During the chase, in which units from Jacksonville, Cabot and Arkansas State Police were involved, Hart said Miller's demeanor turned from threatening to respectful. He eventually tossed the knife onto the dashboard, she said, and at one point asked to use her cell phone to call his parents. Miller told his parents that he had "taken some drugs" and "was going to go to jail for a long time because he did something wrong," she said.
Police ultimately subdued the bus by flattening the tires with stop sticks along North Mountain Springs Road and Arkansas 5. Miller surrendered soon after and allowed Hart and the children to get off the bus. No one was injured.
The district credits Hart with "ensuring the safety of all of the students during the crisis." Hart said she just tried to comfort and calm the children during the ordeal.