Carrolltowne residents complain over police handling of search No warning given on hospital escape SOUTHEAST -- Sykesville * Eldersburg * Gamber

October 29, 1992|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Staff Writer

What Carrolltowne and the state police have is a failure to communicate.

When a patient walked away from Springfield Hospital Tuesday morning, police officers from the Westminster barracks and from Sykesville searched the 250-home development.

"No one called us," Kathleen Horneman of Gemini Drive said. "The police just showed up, cordoned off streets and searched."

Police went through yards and the woods behind Andylin Way just about the time small children were walking home from the morning kindergarten session at Carrolltowne Elementary School.

"They came to the door and told us to keep the kids in, but not what they were looking for," said Mrs. Horneman. "The school wasn't informed. Walkers were going home to empty houses."

The rumors began to fly. Mary Ellen Gearhart, president of the Carrolltowne Community Association, was swamped with phone calls from anxious neighbors. The captains in Neighborhood Block Watch -- a citizen crime watch group -- were ready to call and alert residents.

"One phone call could have made all the difference," said Mrs. Gearhart. "The information, including the escapee's description, could have been passed around in about 15 minutes."

Lisa Balk, a block captain, called the state police barracks in Westminster about 1 p.m., shortly before police called off the search.

She asked the dispatcher to confirm the escape and to alert the elementary school. She also asked for a description of the fugitive.

"The dispatcher was rude and acted annoyed at my call," she said. "At our watch meetings, the police tell us to call about anything. They don't think anything is too small."

At 5:30 p.m. the same day, residents of a house in the 1600 block of Andylin Way returned home to find that their house had been ransacked, Mrs. Horneman said. Several items, including a man's change of clothes, were missing, and a discarded Springfield uniform was found.

Jerold Howsden of the 1600 block of Andylin Way, said that he saw a man walking in the neighborhood with a couple of bags Tuesday.

"If I had known who the police were looking for, I might have called them," he said.

The fugitive asked one resident for directions to Carrolltowne Mall, Mrs. Horneman said.

The school was not as uninformed as the residents. Acting on information from bus drivers who heard about the search on their scanners, the assistant principal called the police.

"They were very cooperative with us and told us what was happening," said Nancy Chapin, the principal. "We gave the children safety tips, but we do that all the time. We tried to call parents if we knew children were walking home alone."

More than the usual number of teachers monitored children on the playground, she said.

Mrs. Gearhart said that the situation offered the opportunity for better communication between residents and police.

"The police were doing their job, but they needed to go beyond their job," she said.

"They needed to talk to us. We could have helped. With a good description, there was a good chance he [the fugitive] would have been caught."

The man remains at large.

Lt. Roy Neigh, commander of the Westminster barracks, said that in most cases police will inform residents of an escape and will provide a description.

"When we are trying to locate an escapee, it is better to have more eyes looking," he said.

"I don't know what happened in our communication center, but the supervisor is checking into it."

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