Murder suspect, stopped for speeding, was freed

February 21, 1992|By Roger Twigg and David Simon | Roger Twigg and David Simon,Staff Writers William F. Zorzi Jr. of the metropolitan staff contributed to this article.

One day after Vitalis V. Pilius was abducted from a downtown parking garage, robbed and slain, a state trooper stopped his alleged killer for speeding and was presented Mr. Pilius' driver's license. But after running a check and learning that Mr. Pilius, a 37-year-old white male, had been reported missing, the trooper allowed the 18-year-old black suspect to drive away with only a warning ticket.

Police officials confirmed yesterday that just such an encounter occurred.

It marked the second time in less than 24 hours last week that state troopers came upon young Dontay Carter in possession of the older victim's license and credit cards, yet failed to detain the suspect.

And yesterday, state police continued to defend their performance.

"She followed procedures to the fullest extent," Lt. Johnny Hughes, chief public information officer for the state force, said of Trooper Holly Fuller of the Golden Ring barracks, who failed to arrest the suspect. "In fact, she went overboard."

While the spokesman insisted that state police procedures were followed during the car stop, he also said an administrative review of the entire matter was being undertaken by department officials.

About 2 p.m. Feb. 12 in the southbound lanes of Reisterstown Road near Ritters Lane, Trooper Fuller pulled over a rental car operated by a black male now believed to be Carter. Carter is charged in the murder of Mr. Pilius and with the abduction and robbery of two other men.

In the car with Carter were three other black men. The trooper had clocked the car at 60 mph in a 45 mph zone. She approached the car and asked for license and registration, according to Lieutenant Hughes.

The driver of the car handed over a license that contained Carter's picture, but it contained Mr. Pilius' name, date of birth and physical description. Police believe the suspect obtained such a license at the Mondawmin branch of the Motor Vehicle Administration by burning the picture off Mr. Pilius' original license and requesting a replacement copy.

Lieutenant Hughes said the trooper also obtained identification from the other three men in the car, then called for a motor vehicle check on Mr. Pilius and records checks on all the occupants.

Informed that Mr. Pilius was a 37-year-old white male, the trooper asked Carter if he knew that the MVA had him listed as white, police said. Carter said that he had no knowledge of this but that he would correct the problem.

Later during the 30-minute-long traffic check, the trooper was informed that Mr. Pilius had been listed by the Baltimore County Police Department's Woodlawn Precinct as an involuntary missing person. When the trooper asked Carter about this, the suspect replied that his wife often reported him missing when he didn't come home for a couple of days, according to Lieutenant Hughes.

At that point, the trooper spoke with Sgt. Lloyd Russell, the duty sergeant at her barracks, who tried to call the Baltimore County department's central records division, to no avail. The sergeant then called the Woodlawn barracks.

According to Lieutenant Hughes, a lengthy conversation then ensued by radio between the trooper and her sergeant, who talked with an officer at the Woodlawn Precinct. The officer at Woodlawn confirmed that Mr. Pilius had been reported missing by his wife.

Asked by the duty sergeant whether Mr. Pilius was white or black, the Woodlawn officer responded that he was white. The sergeant replied that his trooper had stopped a black motorist, and the Woodlawn officer explained that the missing-person's report was for a white male, officials said.

At that point, the duty sergeant instructed Trooper Fuller to let the motorist go, Lieutenant Hughes said. Privately, state police officials defended the decision by noting that road troopers often find during motor vehicle checks that information such as race and age are incorrect in motor vehicle records.

E. Jay Miller, spokesman for the Baltimore County Police Department, confirmed last night that a state trooper did contact the Woodlawn station regarding the missing-person report.

"A trooper made the call, and said the person stopped was black," Mr. Miller said. "Our desk person told him that our guy was white, and the trooper said he'd get back to us."

State police apparently never called back, however.

Lieutenant Hughes said the trooper wrote a warning ticket for the speeding violation. A copy of the ticket is still on file at the barracks, he said, adding that four other police patrol units -- two from the state police, two from Baltimore County -- arrived as backups for the traffic stop.

Mr. Miller confirmed last night that two Baltimore County officers saw a state police cruiser with emergency lights pass them on Reisterstown Road and that they followed it to the scene of the traffic stop. But the county officers did not become involved and left when two other troopers arrived, Mr. Miller said.

Only a day earlier, state troopers at Baltimore-Washington International Airport were called to the airport's Budget car rental desk, where a man believed to be Carter had tried to rent a car using Mr. Pilius' identification.

A suspicious Budget employee, noticing the age discrepancy, called police, but when troopers arrived, Carter became belligerent at being questioned, even threatening legal action, according to Lieutenant Hughes. The troopers allowed Carter to leave.

State police said yesterday that Carter had apparently earlier the same day tried to rent another car at a downtown Budget location using Mr. Pilius' American Express card but had been refused because his signature did not match the one on the credit card.

The American Express card was later confiscated at the airport rental desk after being flagged by the credit card company.

Carter is accused of abducting Mr. Pilius from the Harbor Park garage, stealing his money and credit cards and beating him to death.

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