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Movie on Bus Hijacking Takes Detour With Facts

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Filmmakers have used a little dramatic license in turning the story of a Miami school bus hijacking into a made-for-television movie.

"Sudden Terror: The Hijacking of School Bus 17" is the story of bus driver Alicia Chapman. Ms. Chapman was taking 13 pre-K-3 students to school last Nov. 2 when a man distraught over a $15,000 tax debt and claiming to have an explosive device strapped to his chest forced his way onto the bus.

A police sniper shot and killed the man, 42-year-old Catalino Sang, after a low-speed chase through Dade County, Fla. The bomb turned out to be harmless, and the bus driver became somewhat of a local heroine.

Moviemakers from Hollywood descended on Miami after the incident, but it was a Florida company that eventually persuaded the bus driver to sell them her story.

Oasis Entertainment, a Fort Lauderdale-based production-development company, won the rights for Columbia/Tri-Star television and actor Tony Danza's Katie Face Productions film company.

But for viewers who remember the incident, the bus may be the only thing in the movie that looks familiar.

Maria Conchita Alonso portrays Ms. Chapman. The young Cuban-American actress is a brunette; Ms. Chapman, a native of Cuba, is blond and nearly 10 years older than Ms. Alonso.

Many of the 13 students on the bus were autistic or had severe learning disabilities--which were "toned down" for the movie, according to one of the producers.

"We basically had to lighten up the disabilities," Bryan Hickox, one of the movie's producers, told The Miami Herald. "That would be tough to watch for two hours. This is not a documentary."

In addition, the 13 students were made into composites, and only eight will appear on the movie bus.

Producers also filmed the $4 million ABC movie in Jacksonville, saying that filming in Miami was too expensive.

Along with changing the names of characters--Ms. Chapman is Marta Caldwell in the movie--a large part of the action is fictional. Miami's most famous school bus smashes through several police barriers, rams a crane, runs down an embankment, and crashes through trees and a fence in the movie. In reality, the chase ended rather quietly for the bus riders.

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