Vol. 7, No. 2, 2001 Page 6

In the News: Subway obsession: compulsion or crime?

A 35-year-old New York City man obsessed with subway trains is frustrating the city's Transit Authority, baffling the courts, and demonstrating just how difficult it can be to decide questions of culpability when a criminal defendant possesses a brain disorder that alters cognition and behavior.

Darius McCollum first came to the attention of legal authorities as a 15-year-old when he was arrested for "borrowing" a subway train and driving it to the World Trade Center. Since then he has been arrested 18 times, always for crimes related to his obsession with subways. Most recently, he pulled a subway emergency brake during rush hour, and then impersonated a transit worker investigating the incident.

What complicates McCollum's case is the fact that leading authorities believe that he suffers from Asperger syndrome, a form of high-functioning autism. Individuals with Asperger syndrome have extremely poor social skills, but often have normal or even high IQs. Their lives tend to revolve around unusual preoccupations, and many-like McCollum-become fascinated with maps, trains, and transportation schedules. In addition, individuals with Asperger syndrome often possess an encyclopedic knowledge about the objects of their obsession. They frequently have difficulty understanding that their obsessive interests are bizarre or socially inappropriate.

Although McCollum's attorney pleaded at his latest trial that McCollum was not sufficiently competent to be responsible for his acts, McCollum was recently sentenced to up to five years in prison. "They just keep jailing him and jailing him," his mother says, "and it isn't doing anything."


"Crimes or an affliction: a fixation with trains," Dean E. Murphy, New York Times, March 15, 2001; and "Irresistible lure of subways keeps landing imposter in jail," Dean E. Murphy, New York Times, August 24, 2000.

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