The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Local News

February 2, 2013

As Ala. standoff drags on, town grieves bus driver

— MIDLAND CITY, Ala. (AP) — As the standoff with a man accused of holding a 5-year-old boy hostage continued Saturday, a nearby community prepared to bury the beloved bus driver who was shot to death when the episode started to unfold five days ago.

Charles Albert Poland Jr., a 66-year-old man known around his town as Chuck, was described by folks in his hometown of Newton as a humble hero who gave his life Tuesday to protect the children on his bus. Visitations services for Poland were scheduled for Saturday evening, and his funeral was set for Sunday afternoon.

"I believe that if he had to do it all over again tomorrow, he would," said Poland's sister-in-law, Lavern Skipper. "He would do it for those children."

Authorities said Jim Lee Dykes — a Vietnam-era veteran known as Jimmy to his neighbors —boarded a stopped school bus filled with 21 children Tuesday afternoon and demanded two boys between 6 and 8 years old. When Poland tried to block his way, the gunman shot him several times and took one 5-year-old boy — who police say remains in an underground bunker with Dykes.

Dale County Sheriff Wally Olson said in a briefing with reporters Saturday that Dykes has told them he has blankets and an electric heater in the bunker. Authorities have been communicating with Dykes through a ventilation pipe to the underground bunked.

Olson also said Dykes has allowed authorities to deliver coloring books, medication and toys for the boy.

"I want to thank him for taking care of our boy," Olson said. "That's very important."

The shooting and abduction took place in Midland City, a small town near Dothan, Ala., in the state's southeastern corner.

Newton is about three miles away, a small hamlet with fewer than 2,000 residents. It sits amid cotton farms and rolling hills sprinkled with red earth; most of the residents commute to Dothan or to a nearby Army post.

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