A Clinton man was arrested Tuesday after police say he stole a school bus in Charlotte, hit two mailboxes, and engaged in a brief standoff with law enforcement after he refused to leave the bus.

Thomas Jason Ruchotzke, 38, faces charges of operating without owner’s consent, third-degree criminal mischief and driving with a suspended license.

A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Feb. 23 in Clinton County District Court. Bond was set Wednesday at $5,000 cash-only on the operating without owner's consent charge and $2,000 cash or surety on the criminal mischief charge. 

According to arrest affidavits filed Wednesday by the Clinton County Sheriff’s Office:

Just after 5 p.m. Tuesday, the sheriff’s office was dispatched for a report of a vehicle theft in Charlotte. A bus driver for the Northeast Community School District reported that someone had stolen a school bus from his residence and that it was heading west on Park Avenue.

He also reported that the bus hit a mailbox as it drove away. Deputies determined that the bus hit two mailboxes.

A deputy located the school bus, which was stuck in a snow drift in a parking lot at Park Avenue and Center Street.

The deputy noted that one person was sitting in the driver’s seat and that there appeared to only be one occupant in the bus.

The deputy used a loud speaker to get the driver’s attention and asked him to step out of the bus. The driver initially gave a false name and later identified himself as Ruchotzke. He refused to leave the bus and claimed that he owned the bus.

The deputy asked him to leave the bus and Ruchotzke pointed at the deputy with two fingers and said “bang.” He said there were no weapons on the bus when asked by the deputy.

Ruchotzke refused to keep his hands out of the vehicle as he talked to the deputy.

Additional deputies arrived on scene, as well as an officer from the DeWitt Police Department. The officers approached the bus and opened the rear door to try and make contact with Ruchotzke.

One of the deputies approached him on the driver’s side of the bus. Ruchotzke talked to him for several minutes and stated again that he owned the bus and that he was a just stuck and needed help getting the vehicle out.

Ruchotzke then handed the deputy a penny saying that he needed to take the penny, saying that it was “good medication.”

When questioned by the deputy, Ruchotzke said he did not need any medication and that he was just fine living on the bus and that he needed a push to get going.

He said several times that he was “Northeast Schools” and that his name was on the side of the bus.

At one point, deputies got Ruchotzke to open the bus door but he still refused to leave. One of the deputies utilized a stun gun into his back and took him into custody, according to the affidavits.

Ruchotzke was arrested in December and charged with possession of Lorazepam, possession of Hydrocodone, possession of Alprazolam, all aggravated misdemeanors, and unlawful possession of a prescription drug, a serious misdemeanor.

He was released on bond. In January, prosecutors filed an application for “recommitment after bail” and alleged that he had violated certain conditions of his release.

A judge issued a $1,000 cash-only bench warrant on Jan. 5, according to court records.

A pretrial conference in that case is scheduled for Feb. 21.

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