Police are still trying to determine why a 27-year-old man stole a school bus and led police on a wild, meandering low-speed chase through the city yesterday before crashing into a guardrail and causing the bus to burst into flames.

Even more puzzling was why Edward Long, of the 7900 block of Frankford Avenue in the Holmesburg section of Northeast Philadelphia, then refused to get out of the fiery vehicle as it rapidly filled with smoke, police said.

"He locked the bus doors, and the cops had to break in and then drag him from the burning bus," said Detective John Cawley. "As it was filling with smoke, the two officers had to fight with him to let go of the steering wheel."

Long was treated for minor injuries and burns at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. After being released, he was charged with the unauthorized use of a vehicle, fleeing and eluding police, reckless endangerment, criminal mischief, and other counts. Late yesterday, police said they were still trying to sort out the motive.

Authorities gave this account:

The incident began around 5 a.m. when Long entered the fenced-in Atlantic Express bus lot on Thompson Avenue in Southwest Philadelphia through a gate that had frozen open. He stole a mini-bus with about 25 seats and was spotted by police on 70th and Essington Avenue because he was driving without brake lights.

Long took off when police tried to pull him over, and got on the Schuylkill Expressway and then went east on the Vine Street Expressway and then north on Interstate 95.

Police pursued him through the city for about 30 minutes - getting off I-95 at Allegheny Avenue and then back on - before the bus hit a guardrail head-on between Bridge Street and Cottman Avenue in the Northeast.

The bus was destroyed in the fire.

"It had mechanical problems and was sitting in that lot waiting to be repaired," said Cawley. "It had a faulty heater."

Contact staff writer Jan Hefler

at 856-779-3224 or jhefler@phillynews.com