Fatal Chain of Errors

February 19, 1992

Now and then, a tragedy reveals a systems breakdown. That is now clear in the wake of a deadly crime spree in Baltimore that included a murder and three kidnappings. Repeatedly during that spree of violence, elemental law enforcement and Motor Vehicle Administration procedures were circumvented. As a result, what started with the kidnapping of a Johns Hopkins physician escalated into the cold-bloodied bludgeon murder of 37-year-old Vitalis Pilius, a Hewlett-Packard engineer who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The wrong place in the case of Mr. Pilius, who was married and the father of four children, was a parking garage on the fringes of Baltimore's Inner Harbor. He had parked there for a daytime business appointment at the nearby New Community College of Baltimore. If this is the "wrong" place, what is the "right" one?

Those who knew Mr. Pilius in Union Square and in Catonsville mourn a decent man whose life was snuffed out before his prime. No amount of tears will bring him back. But something clearly can be done to prevent others from becoming innocent victims of similar crime sprees.

For starters, we urge Motor Vehicle Administrator W. Marshall Rickert to immediately suspend his agency's lackadaisical policy of issuing replacement driver's licenses for mutilated ones -- unless one or two pieces of positive identification, with pictures, are presented.

According to Sun reporter Joe Nawrozki, twice during the spree an 18-year-old suspect got a replacement driver's license -- with his photo on it -- simply by presenting the victim's mutilated driver's license to MVA officials. There is no excuse for such sloppiness: One of the licenses belonged to a 34-year-old man, the other to a 37-year-old.

The training of state troopers also seems lax. When a suspicious employee at a BWI airport car-rental desk called police to check the identity of an 18-year-old man renting a car with the credit card and license of a 37-year-old, state troopers failed to stop the fraud. The deadly spree continued.

During the Jeffrey Dahmer trial, many Americans wondered how 17 young males could be killed without earlier detection. Marylanders now know how it happens. During both the Dahmer killing spree as well as last week's spree of violence in metropolitan Baltimore, the system failed.

It must be corrected.

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