Man accused of stealing school bus, ramming police cars needs longer assessment

A 19-year-old man accused of stealing a wheelchair-accessible school bus and smashing into two police cars during a chase through west Saint John requires more time to undergo a psychiatric assessment.

Matthew Duke was sent for a 30-day psychiatric assessment on Feb. 10 and was due back Friday in Saint John provincial court.

But Duke did not appear. Duty counsel Brian Ferguson told the court the psychiatrist requested more time to complete the assessment to determine if Duke is fit to stand trial and whether he can be held criminally responsible.

Duke is facing seven charges, including theft of the special needs bus, worth more than $5,000, two counts of assaulting a police officer with a weapon (the 2007 Freightliner school bus), dangerous driving, failing to remain at the scene of an accident, mischief and resisting arrest.

Judge Henrik Tonning granted another 30 days. Duke is scheduled to return to court  April 6 at 1:30 p.m.

Duke has not yet entered any pleas in connection with the Feb. 9 incident, when the empty school bus was stolen from the Lorneville yard of the Anglophone South School District driver, who went home around 10:45 a.m. to pick up something before her next bus run.

She turned the bus off but left the keys inside and the bus was stolen.

Saint John police officers pursued the vehicle along Highway 1, onto Highway 7. 

During the chase, the bus rammed into a parked police car, while the officer was outside, laying down a spike belt. The officer narrowly escaped being hit and the new car, worth an estimated $30,000, was demolished.

Another police vehicle was rammed from behind, causing an estimated $20,000 damage and sending that officer to the hospital with non-life threatening injuries.

The bus operator pulled over near the Grand Bay-Westfield exit and was arrested following a brief foot chase.

Duke was ordered to undergo the assessment at the request of Crown prosecutor Lucie Mathurin, based on some comments she said he made to police after his arrest.

Duke, however, didn't feel he needed to have any sort of assessment, according to his duty counsel.