Artistic License

Hollywood plays fast and loose with a school bus hijacking

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Filmmakers have taken dramatic license in turning the story of a Miami school bus hijacking into a made-for-TV thriller.

Sudden Terror: The Hijacking of School Bus 17 is the story of bus driver Alicia Chapman, who last November 2 was taking disabled primary students to school 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 eventually shot and killed the man, 42-year-old Catalino Sang, after a low-speed chase through Dade County. The bomb turned out to be harmless. But Chapman became a local heroine.

After the incident, movie-makers from Hollywood descended on the bus driver, but it was a Florida company that eventually persuaded Chapman to sell her story. Oasis Entertainment, a Fort Lauderdale-based production company, won the rights for Columbia/Tri-Star television and actor Tony Danza's Katie Face Productions.

For those who remember the incident, the bus may be the only thing in the movie that looks familiar. For one thing, Maria Conchita Alonso, the young Cuban-American actress who plays Chapman, is a brunette; Chapman herself is blond and nearly 10 years older than Alonso.

Many of the 13 students on the bus were autistic or had severe learning disabilities. But the producers have said that the kids' handicaps have been "toned down" for the movie. "We basically had to lighten up the disabilities," producer Bryan Hickox 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; only eight will appear on the movie bus.

What's more, the producers shot the $4 million ABC movie in Jacksonville, saying that filming in Miami was too expensive.

Along with changing the names of characters--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.

Vol. 08, Issue 02, Page 10-11

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