Howard mother, 34, dragged to death by her stolen car Child in car not injured

2 charged with murder, kidnapping, robbery

September 09, 1992|By James M. Coram and Alisa Samuels | James M. Coram and Alisa Samuels,Staff Writers Staff writers Joe Nawrozki, Michael James and Erik Nelson contributed to this article.

Two suspects charged with first-degree murder in the car-jacking death of a Howard County woman yesterday are being held in special isolation cells at the county detention center.

Both were awaiting bail hearings on the violent car theft and subsequent pursuit that attracted national attention.

James Rollins, the Howard County detention center's director, said he took the extraordinary step of isolating the suspects "because this case evokes a lot of emotion."

"The one is a juvenile charged as an adult, and I have to be careful with that aspect, also," he said, adding that "there is a feeling through the inmate population about these two guys."

Mr. Rollins said he spoke with the two prisoners this morning. The county detention center houses 189 other prisoners.

Police and witnesses say the two Washington, D.C.-area men sped nearly two miles in the woman's BMW with her either clinging or pinned to its side, her 22-month-old daughter inside.

As has been the procedure in Howard County for more than a year, today's bail hearing will be conducted via closed-circuit television on a link between the detention center in Jessup and district court in Ellicott City.

The victim, Pamela Basu, 34, who was taking the child to her first day of preschool, either refused to let go or was caught in the door on the driver's side when she was forced from behind the wheel at a stop sign near her home in the 9600 block of Horsham Drive near Laurel, a county detective said.

About a half-mile away, the abductors pulled over and set the toddler on the road unharmed. But Mrs. Basu was still hanging from the car as it was driven away. Horrified witnesses were powerless to intervene.

In a statement of charges filed last night at the District Court in Ellicott City, police said that the car was driven into the fence "with an intentional act . . . by defendants to dislodge [Mrs.] Basu" from her car.

The drama ended several miles away after the car ran into a second fence and officers arrested Rodney Eugene Solomon, 27, and Bernard Eric Miller, 16, both of Washington, police said.

The suspects were charged with first-degree murder, two counts of robbery and two counts of kidnapping. Both were ordered held without bail.

The Miller youth appeared stunned as Commissioner John Lewis Jr. read the murder charge, suddenly sitting up and declaring, "Excuse me, sir, I didn't do it." The youth, dressed in white jail overalls, trembled during the brief hearing.

Mr. Solomon, however, had a hard time staying awake during his hearing and was repeatedly jarred into consciousness by officers.

"Why are you asking me all these questions?" he asked Commissioner Lewis. "Everything you asked me is on the paper."

Police said the two suspects attempted at least one other car theft in the area yesterday after a Cadillac they were driving broke down on Interstate 95 near Laurel.

Mr. Solomon -- who police alleged was driving Mrs. Basu's car -- has prior arrests in the District of Columbia on charges of robbery, assault with intent to murder, and narcotics violations, police sources said. He told the court commissioner, however, he had no prior arrests.

Witnesses said they thought Mrs. Basu was still alive when her BMW sped west on Gorman Road, a half-mile away from where it had been seized. As it rounded the corner, the car turned onto the shoulder and cut off another car, police said, before it stopped and the occupants placed the toddler, who was in a child-restraint seat, on the ground outside.

"I had to put on my brakes to avoid an accident," said Keith McLamb of Fens Hollow Drive, who had been returning home on Gorman Road shortly after 8:30 a.m. when a car cut in front of him.

"The car pulled over onto the shoulder, dragging what appeared to be a dummy from the driver's side," he said. "There was activity inside the car like people having a domestic argument. It was surreal."

He said the child "walked to the middle of the road as the car pulled off. I saw the woman moving as the car took off.

"It was the first time I knew she was a person and that she was alive. I could see her hands and shoulders. I assumed she was hanging on. A lady in the car behind me picked up the child. Another car made a U-turn and took off after them. I followed also, but they were gone."

"It was a terrible thing. I'll never forget it."

Catherine Nehring was the woman who picked up the child, took her to her home and called police.

"She was crying a little, but not a lot," said Mrs. Nehring, 32. "I think she was in shock and didn't know what was going on."

The child's father came about 10:30 a.m. and "just broke down crying," Ms. Nehring said. Paramedics also arrived to examine the child.

Ms. Nehring said she thought it was a dummy she had seen dangling from the car.

A half-mile up the road, Sandra Benz was at the corner of Falling Waters Court and Gorman Road with her 2-year-old son when she "saw that BMW dragging a body and thought, 'This is an awfully expensive prank for teen-agers to be putting on.'

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