Hijacking victim spent his days helping others Deliveryman dragged to death as man stole van

November 05, 1992|By Richard Irwin and David Michael Ettlin | Richard Irwin and David Michael Ettlin,Staff Writers

Al Coats believed in the principle of helping others.

Day and night, when he was not making his rounds as a doughnut deliveryman, he would run errands or take care of the shopping for invalids. And he would take leftovers from his rounds to such places as the Helping Up Mission.

Saturday mornings, he would deliver a message about salvation and helping others in a show on WBMD Radio, and would personally visit and pray with listeners who were ill and hospitalized.

Yesterday, the people who knew and were helped by 64-year-old Alonzo Coats were coming to grips with his death -- the victim of a hijacker who stole his Fogler's Donuts delivery van moments before midnight Tuesday in South Baltimore.

Mr. Coats was making his first stop of the night at the Central Restaurant in the 900 block of E. Patapsco Ave. -- a block from the Fogler's bakery -- and had left the engine running, as was his custom, police said, when a still-unidentified man slipped into the driver's seat.

Witnesses told police they weren't sure if the man at the steering wheel saw Mr. Coats passing in front of the van or if Mr. Coats knew that someone had gotten into his van.

When the van moved forward, Mr. Coats was knocked to the pavement and his body became lodged under the vehicle, in a space about 15 inches high between the ground and the vehicle's undercarriage, said Southern District Sgt. O. B. McCarter.

"He was a fairly large man and it was easy for him to become wedged under the van as it sped off down Patapsco Avenue," said Sergeant McCarter. "We really don't know if the hijacker knew he was under the van."

Sergeant McCarter said the delivery van traveled about 10 car-lengths east on East Patapsco Avenue, causing Mr. Coats' body to be tumbled over several times before the van's wheels rolled over him as his body was thrown out onto the street.

Sergeant McCarter said the van continued several blocks along East Patapsco Avenue at high speed before turning right onto Fairhaven Avenue.

At the intersection with Popland Street, the thief lost control of the bakery van and crashed into two parked cars.

Apparently uninjured, the man -- described only as white and with shoulder-length hair -- jumped out of the van and escaped.

Steven Fogler, owner of the doughnut firm, described Mr. Coats yesterday as a man who cared for others before himself.

"At the end of his shift and on his own time," Mr. Fogler said, "he would take doughnuts, other baked goods he didn't sell to his customers and leftovers from the bakery and deliver them to needy families and shelters all over the city."

"He had a heart of gold," said 72-year-old Thelma Cook, of the 1800 block of Walbrook Ave., who told how "Brother Al" visited her when she was hospitalized for cancer surgery. "Black or white -- it made no difference to him. He'd go to nursing homes or high-rises, where he could tell somebody about God.

"He was getting ready, bless his heart, to retire. His birthday was coming up. He wanted a church, a place of his own so badly."

Mr. Coats, who was divorced and the father of a grown daughter, lived in the 3300 block of E. Monument St., where he split the rent with a fellow Church of God worshiper, Harrison Lewis Jr., 55.

"All night long, he delivered doughnuts, and all day long he'd run errands for people who couldn't do it themselves," Mr. Lewis said. "Really, he worked for God in all waking hours. He was a very devoted man."

Mr. Lewis' daughter, Southern District Officer Marnel Schultz, was the second police officer at the scene of his death.

"I kept denying it was him," she said last night.

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