Car full of meth and bus full of hostages: exercise in breaking news

August 1. Today’s syllabus reads sparsely. Too little to trust, really. We haven’t had a solely discussion-based lecture since the first week of bootcamp.

My friend also tried to drop me off at school, but was not permitted to drive a car through campus. Before classes begin, a campus-wide email is sent out warning of an “emergency drill.”

We are suspicious.

But we really have no idea what our newswriting professors have in store for us.

Soon enough, we directed to the College Place bus stop up the hill from Newhouse. From there, we bear witness to the largest orchestrated news I’ve ever heard of: our professors manage to get the entire emergency response system in the City of Syracuse to participate in a major demonstration involving a car crash, hostage situation, HAZ-MAT investigation and press conference. Impressive. Read more below, and follow this link to a stop-motion video of the entire day’s work.


James Sullivan, of Hoboken, N.J., is arrested by Syracuse Police after holding a bus full of hostages . Hostages say that he acted with sympathy, releasing several throughout the hour-long hold-up.

Two people Monday morning held a bus full of people hostage at College Place after their vehicle, which was transporting chemicals and supplies for use in a meth lab, hit two pedestrians.

The suspects were under investigation by the FBI branch in Newark, N.J. Bradley Smith, 30 was driving the Ford Explorer with passengers James Sullivan and Pam Peterson, all of Hoboken, N.J., when the SUV struck students Mark Ewing and Rocco Fragomeni.

The students were walking to class at about 10 a.m. Ewing said that he was happy to be OK, and suffered only bruises and cuts. He said that Fragomeni had fractured his right leg.

Police quickly arrested Smith, the driver of the white Explorer. As he was escorted inside Sims Hall, where the Public Safety Department is house, he repeatedly shouted, “Why am I in handcuffs?”

Meanwhile, Sullivan and Peterson boarded a bus parked nearby, which was to travel to New York City for an event at SU’s Lubin House. The situation escalated when passengers on the bus questioned what Sullivan and Peterson were doing on the bus. They responded by pulling out handguns.

Yells were heard from the bust for the next half an hour as Syracuse Police hostage negotiators attempted to diffuse the situation.

About 30 people were trapped on the bus at the time. Among that was Kay T. Lynn, who used Facebook to contact her boyfriend Andrew Petrie. “This guy is really scaring me,” Lynn wrote. “Don’t know what’s going to happen. Hope we get out alive.”

Drew Buske, deputy chief of SU’s public safety department, said that social media “certainly played a role” in the investigation. Bus passenger Juan Buss also posted some of the things Sullivan was yelling on Twitter.

Sullivan released some of the hostages before surrendering at just after 11 a.m. The first people to leave the bus were MacGarret Becker and his pregnant girlfriend Sandy O’Neil. O’Neil was flown to the hospital on Onondaga County’s Air One helicopter. “No one was hurt,” Becker said. “She was just very hot and pregnant.”

O’Neil gave birth to two boys at the hospital. Buske said they were all doing well.

The hostages released from the bus indicated that Sullivan was sympathetic. “It seemed like he had a heart,” Becker said. “He was just in the wrong spot, just waving a gun.”

When O’Neil and Becker exited the bus, he could be heard speaking on the phone to hostage negotiators. “I let her go. I let her go. Is she all right?” he said. “I didn’t come here to hurt anybody.”

When he was taken into custody, he sobbed, saying “I’m sorry” repeatedly.

Investigators confirmed quickly that the containers filled with materials for making meth were sealed.

Drug paraphernalia was found in the vehicle after the hostaged were released. The Syracuse Fire Department’s Hazardous Materials crew confirmed the containers were not leaking. Police said later the chemicals were components used to make methamphetamine, or crystal meth.

Sara Miller, Syracuse University’s associate director of news services, said university operations would continue as usual, but the College Place bus stop will remain closed as investigation continues. Bus riders are instructed to board on Comstock Avenue until further notice.

This article is based on a staged incident on Syracuse University’s campus. The names mentioned are created for the purposes of the exercise. The article includes some corrections I made after feedback from my professor.


Creative Process: To reflect a bit on taking a wealth of information (as can be seen to the left) and creating a distilled package – a message – for transmittal to others, this assignment posed a challenge because it had so many different elements of action and exposition. I think a strength here was writing a solid and interesting lead that conveyed all of what had happened over the day (my professor agreed!).

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