Officials call parking garages safe

February 18, 1992|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,Staff Writer

The violence in two Baltimore parking garages over the past two weeks appears to be the exception to the rule with respect to safety in garages, according to city officials.

"The amount of crime that occurs in parking garages, compared to [their] use is sort of like the people who get hurt in airplane

crashes, compared to the people who fly," said Robert T. Schaffner, chief of the Baltimore Department of Transportation's Parking Management Division.

"I would say that this is an aberration, that garages are very safe," said Mr. Schaffner, whose division oversees city-owned off-street parking facilities, including the operation of six garages.

Dennis S. Hill, spokesman for the Baltimore City Police Department, concurred.

"We don't historically have problems with parking garages," Mr. Hill said.

"I can recall two homicides, those [recent] abductions and some purse snatchings," he said. "Nothing of epidemic proportions.

"About 18 months ago, we had a [police] detail in some of the underground garages downtown, because of a series of muggings," Mr. Hill said. "A lot of people who work in downtown offices, business people were becoming fearful . . . but we arrested a few people, and [the crimes] stopped."

RTC The records section of the Police Department was closed yesterday for Presidents Day and the exact number of incidents at parking garages was unavailable.

But neither of the two earlier killings recalled by Mr. Hill involved the robbery and murder of garage patrons, and neither appeared to have involved kidnapping.

One was a double murder in April 1987 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel's garage at the Inner Harbor, in which an ex-employee killed and robbed two attendants who allegedly had gotten him fired from his job.

The second involved the June 1986 murder of a woman who was found stuffed in the trunk of her car at a garage next to Johns Hopkins Hospital. But that murder, police believe, was related to the woman's private life, though no one to date has been charged.

While city officials say they believe garages to be generally safe, and security measures such as cameras and guards adequate, one parking operator who did not want to be identified said, "The exposure's there."

Mr. Schaffner called the most recent violence that began in Baltimore parking garages "a weird spree of events."

In those cases, one adult and three teen-agers have been charged with abducting men from Baltimore parking garages to steal their bank and credit cards. In one case, the adult and one teen-ager are charged in the slaying of Vitalis Pilius, 37, of Catonsville, who was abducted in his car Feb. 11 from the garage at the Harbor Park Cinema, 55 Market Place, and fatally beaten in a vacant East Baltimore house, where his body was found Friday.

In addition to the slaying, the suspects were linked to the Feb. 7 abduction of a Johns Hopkins Hospital doctor and the kidnapping Friday of a wholesale jewelry dealer, again from the Harbor Park garage. The doctor and the jewelry dealer were stuffed in the trunks of their cars after being accosted by armed men.

At both garages, security measures were in place.

"The reasons security companies are hired . . . has little to do with crime, but has more to do with vandalism," Mr. Schaffner said. "We hired security at the Harbor Park garage to prevent people who come out of nearby bars from throwing . . . barrels over the side down to the street below and beating up on elevators.We've never had the occasion to hire security for crime in parking garages."

Mr. Hill urged garage patrons to "be alert."

"Most of these garages have security, they have TV cameras, and people feel, or felt, relatively safe going into them," he said. "We patrol around them, and we work with the security people, but obviously we don't have enough police officers to patrol all of them."

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