Couple tells court of taunts, near-fatal chase into traffic

January 29, 1991|By Sheridan Lyons

Herbert Jennings and Jennifer Gonzalez had tried to ignore the racial taunts from the driver of a red pickup truck on Eastern Avenue last July 19. But when the truck followed the interracial couple as they walked around the corner and a man on the street offered to "get the nigger," Ms. Gonzales knew they were facing more than just words.

"I said to Buttons [Mr. Jennings' nickname], 'Go for it, run' . . . because they were going to bank him, gang up on him," Ms. Gonzalez testified yesterday in Baltimore Circuit Court.

Mr. Jennings did run, she said -- into Eastern Avenue and under the wheels of an oncoming truck. When she reached him, "he was choking on his own blood and his eye was bulged out of his head."

The 33-year-old Mr. Jennings, then a cook at Haussner's restaurant, was treated at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center, and spent two months in a hospital and three months in ZTC rehabilitation.

Ms. Gonzales recounted the events of last summer yesterday in the first day of testimony at the trial of Daniel Spencer Porter, 21, of the 3300 block of Leverton Avenue, who is charged with assault, reckless endangerment and racial harassment in connection with the near-fatal injuries received by Mr. Jennings on the night of the attack.

Yesterday, Mr. Jennings hobbled to the witness stand and slowly recounted his memories of that night for Judge Robert I. H. Hammerman. He said he is blind in his left eye now and can lift his right arm only to shoulder level.

Dr. Aizik Wolf, a neurosurgeon at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center, testified that Mr. Jennings suffers significant cognitive impairment. Assistant State's Attorney Jack I. Lesser told the judge that Mr. Jennings sometimes can remember if he's given time to think.

Of July 19, Mr. Jennings said "I saw Jennifer" that day, but he couldn't remember his former girlfriend's last name, saying as he did several times in his testimony, "That much, I can't remember. . . ."

But he remembered hearing the driver of the red pickup say, " 'Ah, ah it's salt and pepper night,' and I kind of caught on a little bit afterward. . . . It meant Jennifer being white and I was black, it was something wrong."

Then, Mr. Jennings said he heard someone say, "'You want us to get that nigger?' . . . I heard her scream, "Buttons, run!'

"I started running and I tried to turn around to see and I heard footsteps behind me: large footsteps," he said. "I remember falling into the street, because I tried to turn around to see who was chasing me. . . . I tried to get up real fast and as I turned over, I saw a truck coming and I hollered, "Oh s- - -! That was it."

Ms. Gonzalez said it was Mr. Porter who had asked the man in the red pickup -- who has never been found -- whether he should get Mr. Jennings.

She said she attempted to protect Mr. Jennings, first arguing with the driver of the pickup, whom she pushed when he got out of the truck; then arguing with two men who had been walking with Mr. Porter and who she feared might join the chase.

Two other witnesses took the stand and gave a similar account of the incident and identified Mr. Porter as the person who chased Mr. Jennings.

Daniel J. Marcus, an assistant public defender, has agreed to much of the state's case, but has noted repeatedly that Mr. Porter, who is to testify today, has an IQ of 72, takes several medications and has been under psychiatric care since age 6.

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