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Police Say They Have 'Subway Brake Bandit,' Who Stopped Trains Without Reason

Police officials in New York said Friday they arrested a suspect who may be the "Subway Brake Bandit." The bandit disrupting trains by pulling emergency brakes without reason.
Spencer Platt
Getty Images
Police officials in New York said Friday they arrested a suspect who may be the "Subway Brake Bandit." The bandit disrupting trains by pulling emergency brakes without reason.

New York commuters have reason to cheer: the Subway Brake Bandit apparently has been apprehended, authorities announced on Friday.

Brooklyn resident Isaiah Thompson, 23, allegedly spent months furtively yanking emergency brakes on city subway trains at least 40 times, prompting as many as 700 trains, along with their riders, to be delayed.

On Friday, police told reporters Thompson was arrested at his home, and when detectives interviewed him, he confessed to enjoying the "thrill" of bringing New York trains to a screeching halt.

"When you take into [account] the amount of incidents that have happen in recent months, you talk about the delays and the aggravation it caused riders, visitors, daily commuters," said NYPD Inspector Brian McGee at a press conference on Friday. "And think of motive, the motive we've seen is: He likes to do this. He likes to cause havoc."

McGee said Thompson was arrested for one brake-pulling incident in Manhattan, and one case of "train surfing," or riding on the outside of a train car. Investigators are looking into whether the rash of other sudden, unscheduled stops, which require all commuters to get off the subway, were caused by Thompson.

To transit authorities, he is a known scofflaw, racking up 17 arrests for train surfing, according to McGee.

Transit officials think Thompson followed a pattern, that he would surf on the top of a train, gain access into an operating cabin, which is usually off limits to passengers, and then he would strike: pulling the emergency brake. At that point, officials say, he would dash off into the darkness.

The result was what city officials officials called a "double whammy," where the train has to be stopped and transit workers have to cut the power to the tracks, further delaying trains.

After a spate of rush-hour delays Tuesday night, transit officials for the first time publicly revealed said that they thought a serial offender was at work.

Even though it was the hunch of city officials for months that all the mysterious emergency stops recently could likely be traced back to a single train saboteur, transit and police officials remained mum, fearing that publicizing the theory would trigger copycat acts.

The pattern of causing transit trouble is not merely an inconvenience, McGee said, but passenger safety could have been endangered, especially if a rider happened to have a medical emergency.

"It's dangerous to the ridership and dangerous to this individual who was riding on the back of the train," McGee said. "Once you pull the brake on one train, it has a ramification throughout the line," he said. "That one train can cause a lot of delays."

It is not known, investigators said, exactly how Thompson's suspected mischief went undetected for months, but McGee said he was certain about something else: "Mr. Thompson is the perfect candidate for permanent expulsion from the transit system," he said.

Those who know Thompson told The New York Times he is a bright young man whose behavior had grown unusual recently.

"He's troubled and he needs some help," said his relative, John Thompson. "He's a good kid, he's just troubled."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bobby Allyn is a business reporter at NPR based in San Francisco. He covers technology and how Silicon Valley's largest companies are transforming how we live and reshaping society.