Fort Jackson recruit who hijacked a Columbia school bus found not guilty by reason of insanity

Two evaluations found that Jovan Collazo suffered from a mental disorder that made him unable to distinguish moral and legal right from wrong.
Published: Mar. 9, 2023 at 3:22 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The former Fort Jackson recruit charged with hijacking a bus full of children at gunpoint in 2021 was found not guilty by reason of insanity on Thursday.

25-year-old Jovan Collazo was facing 19 counts of kidnapping, armed robbery, and carjacking, among other charges.

Two evaluations found that he suffered from a mental disorder that made him unable to distinguish moral and legal right from wrong.

Collazo will be sent to a facility designated by the South Carolina Department of Mental Health for no more than 120 days.

He will then have another hearing to re-evaluate his ongoing custody status.

Deputy Solicitor Dan Goldberg told Circuit Court Judge Debra McCaslin that when Collazo left the Fort Jackson barracks with an unloaded rifle on May 6, 2021, and boarded a Richland School District Two bus, he was trying to go home to New Jersey.

At that time, he was convinced that someone was coming after him or his family.

He boarded the bus at a stop near Percival and Eagle Park Road, the Richland County Sheriff’s Department said.

The students were headed for Forest Lake Elementary. A video released by RCSD showed Collazo pointing the unloaded rifle at the driver and demanding the driver shut the door and drive.

He eventually left the 18 children and drove off after bringing them to the front of the bus. He allegedly drove the vehicle about a mile before abandoning it on Old Percival and Quincy Road.

He left the rifle on the bus and was taken into custody after wandering into the neighborhood. He had asked for rides and clothing before being arrested, according to RCSD.

An initial evaluation after his arrest found him to be schizophrenic.

“It was the onset of schizophrenia, he was 23 years old, which is a classic age for that to happen and it is so tragic because they just didn’t know,” Fifth Circuit public defender Elizabeth Pringle said. “The family didn’t know and understand. He had no idea what was happening to him.”

Collazo had no prior criminal record, and since his arrest in May of 2021, he has been treated with antipsychotic medication.

He has been incarcerated since the incident and has not received a single disciplinary write-up.

“Almost two years at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center, and I don’t need to tell you how remarkable that is,” Pringle said.

In announcing her decision, McCaslin wished Collazo luck.

“So after reviewing all of the evidence about the commission of the alleged offense, it was the result of mental disease or defect,” she said. “And you did not have the capacity to distinguish moral or legal right from moral or legal wrong. I’m going to find you not guilty by the reason of insanity on this charge.”

The defense told McCaslin today that this is one of “those rare occasions” where both sides agree.

The bus driver and the passengers had the opportunity to appear in court Thursday but chose not to.


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