Jail bus caper long on courage, short on brains

MICHAEL OLESKER

December 17, 1992|By MICHAEL OLESKER

Before they throw the book at Lonnie D. Nixon, who tried to hijack a jail bus the other evening but never even got it into gear, law enforcement people should know of two things, one involving stupidity on the grand scale and the other which we'll get to momentarily because it's amusing as these things go.

Nixon, 24 years old, was arrested Sunday on Bloom Street for allegedly discharging a firearm, possessing cocaine and intending to distribute it. Two days later, he was about to be taken from the Wabash Avenue District Court lockup to the Baltimore City Detention Center, when he got this dim bulb of an idea in his head.

About 30 other prisoners had already climbed into this Pretrial Services bus when Nixon, one of the last prisoners to board, spotted the correctional officer who was checking handcuffs and leg irons, knocked him out of the bus, slammed the door shut and jumped into the driver's seat.

Where he thought he was going, no one knows. If the key in the ignition and the running engine raises your eyebrows, police say they were thoughtfully warming up the bus for the prisoners. No police (and no other prisoner, either) could have imagined the breathtaking stupidity of Nixon attempting to hijack the bus, as it was sitting on the courthouse lot, with scores of police and their high-speed cars all around him.

How smart was this?

"Not very," city police spokesman Sam Ringgold said yesterday.

How fast do these buses go?

"Not very," said Ringgold. "I know they get in my way on Northern Parkway all the time."

How dumb was this?

"Pretty dumb," said Ringgold.

Was it, say, World Class Dumb, as the grand history of escape attempts go? Well, around here, it's tough to say.

This is a town, after all, which once knew Tunnel Joe Holmes, and Earl Latham, too.

Holmes, of course, is still talked about in tones of awe among prison people. Back in 1951, when he was halfway through a 20-year stretch at the state penitentiary, he decided to dig his way out, chipping through concrete and dirt, digging a subterranean cavern, working for 19 months in a long tunnel no wider than the width of his shoulders.

He had to bail about 140 gallons of water every night, putting it in a drain he'd made off the main tunnel, and he'd flush tons of dirt in the toilet of his cell.

When he broke out, Holmes ran to Wilmington, Del., and to Philadelphia and New Haven, Conn. But then he decided to leave the country, and here's where he commenced doing something very dumb: He decided to leave via the port of Baltimore, where everybody was still looking for him. Poor Joe was caught outside a bowling alley on Howard Street.

Earl Latham, one of nine guys who escaped the House of Correction back about 15 years ago, did a brilliant thing in his own right. He ran home to his mother. He was picked up watching television in the living room and told police he was actually someone named Earl Smith.

The alias sort of flopped when he was asked to spell the name Smith, and he could not.

And so we return to Lonnie D. Nixon who, when last seen, was attempting to hijack this bus on Wabash Avenue. He never even got it into first gear. Several jail officers fired shots through the door while dozens of city and state police raced over.

Nixon, wounded in the arm and leg, was taken to Sinai Hospital and then released to prison custody yesterday.

For what it's worth, law enforcement people could throw an additional charge at him: attempting to drive a getaway bus without a license, which everybody knows you're not allowed to do.

A check with the Motor Vehicle Administration reveals Nixon's license was suspended following repeated traffic offenses, a series of failures to appear in court, and one instance where Nixon was stopped and then eluded an officer by racing off on foot.

"Not a good record," an MVA spokesman said disgustedly yesterday. "If he wanted to get his license back, he'd have to petition us for it."

So let's get this straight: When Nixon's arm and leg heal, and when he finishes dealing with the courts over these various weapons and narcotics charges and the escape attempt, he still needs to sit down with the MVA's Office of Administrative Hearings.

And, boy, are they ever angry about him and the prison bus.

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