A man posing as a passenger stole a shuttle from the San Diego International Airport Tuesday and took eight employees for a frightening ride in the busy area, officials confirmed.
The San Diego Unified Port District Harbor Police said that around 3:45 p.m., the driver of an Employee Shuttle Bus pulled over to the curbside pick-up area in front of Terminal 2 West at the airport and stepped off the bus to give a piece of equipment to another shuttle driver who had pulled up behind him.
The shuttle – typically used to transport airport employees – was carrying nine passengers, including 46-year-old Arizona resident Norberto Eaton.
When the driver stepped off the bus, Eaton got up from his seat, took the driver’s seat and drove off, with eight airport employees still onboard.
Harbor Police said Eaton left the airport and drove eastbound on busy N. Harbor Drive, speeding and ignoring traffic signals.
About a half-mile away, at Hawthorn Street, he was forced to stop due to heavy traffic. With the shuttle idle, two airport employees inside the vehicle approached Eaton.
Harbor Police said that’s when Eaton jumped off the bus and ran toward a San Diego City Parking Enforcement officer who was standing nearby.
Meanwhile, scared employees inside the shuttle yelled at the officer, telling him Eaton had stolen the shuttle bus.
The Parking Enforcement Officer and one of the passengers from the shuttle were able to detain Eaton and call police on their radio.
When Harbor Police officers arrived, Eaton was arrested.
Investigators said Eaton is not an employee of the San Diego International Airport. It is unclear how he got onto the shuttle.
The employees aboard the shuttle were not injured. There was also no damage to the shuttle.
Eaton was booked into San Diego Central Jail on 18 counts, including eight counts of kidnapping and eight counts of false imprisonment with violence. He’s also facing a vehicle theft charge and a count of reckless driving.
Police said Eaton was not armed at the time of the shuttle theft.
His bail was set at $1.2 million, Harbor Police Lt. Dominick Boccia confirmed. The suspect is set to appear in court Thursday.
Boccia said this is one of the most bizarre cases he’s ever heard of in his 28 years with the police department. He said the victims inside the shuttle were surprised and shaken by the ordeal.
“Most of them were shocked. They could tell something was wrong just based on the speed, his erratic driving and the fact that he left the shuttle bus doors open [during the ride],” Boccia told NBC 7.
The airport currently operates at least six shuttle buses like the one involved in the incident. The shuttles are used to transport airport employees to the parking lot and are running at all times throughout the day.
Harbor Police Sgt. Jonathan George said the incident was captured on surveillance tape inside the shuttle but that video is not being publicly released at this time.
NBC 7 reached out to the driver of the shuttle but the driver had no comment on the case.