Letter from A Dead

SMASH! A

January 10, 1993|By MELODY SIMMONS

Baltimore is the "City that Reads," but you wouldn't know it where I live.

My city address is on a short street clearly marked by DEAD END signs in three places. Yet drivers frequently ignore those words and speed westward to the pavement's limit.

Often they realize just as they get in front of my house that there's no more street. Sometimes, they go so fast that their cars jump the curb. One driver was so drunk that he fell out of his car and pulled a wad of money from his pocket and begged us not to call police. Another driver rammed his car into a storage shed located at the foot of the street, causing neighborhood cynics to erect a STOP sign on the shed's door.

But the true horror occurs at night.

It happens quickly. First there is the noise of the speeding car and then a low grind when its gears are thrown into reverse. Shaken from sleep, we have learned at this point to jump out of bed and run to the window.

At least a dozen times this is what we have seen: A driver trying to ride backward out of his or her mistaken turn. The result is a demolition derby, and the guilty party almost always leaves the scene (one guy drove off with two flat tires!).

Seasoned by these experiences, our tiny neighborhood has devised a system. We immediately go from pajamas to the rapid deployment team.

I reach for the phone to call police while my husband, our next door neighbor and another neighbor throw on clothes and start the engines. As the chase vehicles commence a search through the area for the attack car, other neighbors turn on flashlights and start to assess damage.

It happened just last week. In fact, the incident is being hailed as the granddaddy of all our neighborhood car smashups.

Last Wednesday at 4:30 a.m., a white sports car was summoned by its driver to back out of the street. I saw it move very quickly. Then it sideswiped our car, slammed into a neighbor's truck and continued on to sideswipe a teen-age neighbor's parked sports car.

The action was just beginning. Seconds later, as I got to the phone, I looked out of the window and saw a half-dressed neighbor sprinting barefooted up the street like O.J. Simpson, shouting for the driver to stop.

It was too late. Slamming into two other parked cars, the driver somehow turned around and sped off of the street. The chase vehicles soon followed.

Then the police arrived, and within 45 minutes, the white car was stopped nearby for speeding. Amazingly, the 25-year-old female driver confessed to hitting our cars. She was given a field sobriety test, which she passed, placed in a police cruiser and driven back to the block.

The incident then took a weird twist. The driver claimed that she was being attacked by a man named "Jimmy" who lived on our HTC street. When the officer asked her where Jimmy lived, she pointed toward my house.

"That's not where Jimmy lives, that's where I live," my husband said.

"Then it was that house," she said, pointing to our next door neighbor's house, a theory that was also quickly denied.

"Well, maybe it was that house over there," she said, pointing to another false location.

The only man who lives on the block named Jimmy was roused from his sleep by neighbors around 5:45 a.m. He said he never saw the woman, and she agreed.

By this time, the officer was complaining about having to do the paperwork required for five car accidents. He grudgingly told the neighbors he would file reports and would charge the woman with reckless driving and leaving the scene of an accident. He instructed everyone to call her insurance company after 9 a.m. and file claims.

The next day, I was still curious. I called the police district to check out the incident and the woman's claim of sexual assault. It turns out that no crisis counseling took place, even though I later learned the officer believed the "Jimmy" story.

And to my shock, the officer did not give her any traffic tickets -- even though he said he would. After much complaining, the officer's boss reviewed the case and ruled that the officer had "been sold a bill of goods" by the guilty driver. Tickets were issued five days after the incident, and we soon will be summoned to traffic court to testify about the incident.

But something further happened this time. Our complaints to the police district have finally been given attention. In the spirit of the city's latest trend, community policing, an officer will visit our street along with a member of the Department of Transit and Traffic to assess what more can be done to warn dim-witted drivers of the impending street's end.

Perhaps a flashing light? A mega-speed bump? A DEAD END billboard?

Whatever remedy they try next will, we hope, be an improvement over the current situation. We'd like to have no more flashlight gatherings in the wee hours and a good night's sleep, thank you.

Melody Simmons is a reporter for The Baltimore Sun.

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