Edward Long allegedly commandeered a school bus from a guarded bus yard in Port Richmond early yesterday - unnoticed, until his failing brake lights caught the eye of Philadelphia police.

Then, all hell broke loose.

Police said the drama ended with a fiery crash on Interstate 95 near the Cottman Avenue exit and a struggle between police and Long, who refused to leave the burning vehicle and had to be dragged out by cops.

Long, 27, of Frankford Avenue near Decatur Street, was charged with auto theft, aggravated assault, resisting arrest, receiving stolen property and related offenses, said Detective John Cawley, of Southwest Detectives.

He was treated at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania for minor injuries.

Cawley said Long broke into the 6-acre bus yard on Thompson Street near Castor Avenue operated by Atlantic Express, climbed into a short bus and drove from the property

About 5 a.m., police officers saw the bus stopped at 70th Street and Essington Avenue, Southwest Philadelphia, and noticed the vehicle's brake lights weren't working, Cawley said. When cops asked Long to pull over, he appeared to obey, but then "took off," Cawley said.

Long drove the bus northbound on I-95, exiting the highway at one point, then getting back on, Cawley said. He crashed the vehicle into a guardrail between the Bridge Street and Cottman Avenue exits.

"The bus immediately caught on fire," Cawley said.

Long locked the doors, forcing officers to break into the bus to get him out. He put up a struggle, but lost the fight, Cawley said.

Cawley said the keys had been left in the bus.

Jeff Rollo, regional vice president of Atlantic Express, which has a contract with the school district, said the yard is guarded by a security officer who drives around the vast yard in a van.

Long does not have a connection to the company, based in Staten Island, N.Y., Rollo said.

"It makes me so mad to know that someone came into my yard and took my school bus," he said.

"He endangered the lives of who knows how many individuals. It's appalling." *