New York: Darius McCollum can explain the complicated workings of the New York City transit system with the precision of a veteran conductor. He knows every subway stop, every line, and every train.
It`s an obsession that has dominated his life. But instead of becoming a transit worker, he`s become a transit impostor.
Twenty-nine times, beginning when he was a teenager, he`s been arrested for crimes that include piloting a subway train, stealing a bus and donning uniforms to pose as a conductor and even track worker.
"I`ve always loved trains, ever since I can remember. I had the whole subway map memorised by the time I was 8. People would call me to ask how to get somewhere," said the 49-year-old McCollum, who has spent nearly a third of his life behind bars.
He`s been at Rikers Island jail since his 2010 arrest for his latest escapade stealing a Trailways bus. He was arrested behind the wheel on the highway that leads to Kennedy International Airport.
The case, for him, is typical. But he hopes the outcome this time will be different.
Attorney Sally Butler says McCollum`s actions are the result of uncontrolled impulses, a byproduct of what was until recently called Asperger`s syndrome but is now considered an autism spectrum disorder.
She says the district attorney`s office agrees, and they have worked on a solution: McCollum pleaded guilty to stealing the bus, and instead of being sentenced Thursday to 15 years as a habitual offender, he will get 2 and a half to 5 years and voluntarily undergo cognitive behavioural therapy.
"I really do want to change," McCollum told The Associated Press in an interview from jail.
"I have motivation and people behind me. I think I can do it this time."
McCollum was first handed literature about Asperger`s about 10 years ago by a former lawyer. But before he could be evaluated, McCollum was sentenced by a Manhattan judge who said she had looked up the disorder online and decided he didn`t have it.
He has since been diagnosed by doctors on both sides, and it took a while before it started to make sense to him.
"I knew I was different from people, but I didn`t realise what was making me different," he said.
McCollum is friendly, articulate and intelligent. He thanks the guard who takes off his handcuffs, then shakes hands through the small opening in the metal grating of the interview room.
He seems unaffected by his environment, though he says he doesn`t much like jail, and some have suggested he`s too used to the routine of prison. Routine is something many with the disorder crave.