Truck theft victim contends he had to do his own police work

February 08, 1993|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,Staff Writer

George Jay Gouker is a do-it-yourself kind of guy. But he was amazed at how much he had to do last week -- and how little the police helped -- to recover his stolen pickup truck.

Not only did the Essex man track down the truck on his own, but when he found it last Monday night, he couldn't seem to interest the police in responding. After haggling between the Baltimore County and state police over who was responsible for the case, the truck eventually was returned and Mr. Gouker was charged a $60 towing fee, even though the truck was just out of gas.

Mr. Gouker said two officers he called to search items the thief left in the truck said they were cold and left after a peek.

Mr. Gouker, 30, of the first block of Stemmers Run Road, took the items out himself the next morning and found two baggies of what he and the police think is cocaine.

Now state and county police spokesmen said that by emptying the 1987 Ford Ranger, he ruined any value as evidence that the items might have had.

"If indeed these things took place, then we ought to look into it," said Sgt. Stephen R. Doarnberger, a Baltimore County Police spokesman. He said there would be an investigation if Mr. Gouker requests one.

The truck was stolen between 11 p.m. Jan. 28 and the next morning, when Mr. Gouker left for his job as a refrigerator and air-conditioning specialist.

He called police, he said, then "started driving around every night looking for my truck." Last Monday, his girlfriend's son saw the truck traveling on Eastern Avenue.

That night Mr. Gouker cruised nearby apartment parking lots and spotted his truck parked at the Riverdale complex less than a mile from his home.

"I also see four police cars making a bust, not even 100 yards from where I found my truck," he said. "I asked, 'Could you come over?' and they said 'We're busy,' so I asked, 'Could you call in?' and they said, 'We're busy. Use a pay phone.' "

He found a phone and called 911, Mr. Gouker said, but after waiting 28 minutes, he saw his truck being driven past him.

So, with his girlfriend and her three children in her car, he took off after the truck, speeding through Essex to the Beltway, then south on Interstate 95 toward Baltimore -- where he heard his truck making noise as it ran out of gas.

The truck pulled over, with Mr. Gouker about 200 yards behind it, he said. The driver walked toward Mr. Gouker with his hands in his pocket as if he might have a gun.

"I hollered, 'Hold it right there,' but he just kept walking, so I . . . drove off," Mr. Gouker said. He hailed a trucker who called state police on her CB radio.

Back at his abandoned truck, he said, he showed a state troopers things the thief had left inside, but was told to call county police because it was their stolen vehicle case.

The troopers also told him the truck would have to be towed, although Mr. Gouker said he told them it only needed gas. He paid $60 to a towing service.

Once he got home about 11 p.m., Mr. Gouker said, he called the county police as instructed. Two officers, whose names he didn't get, "fumbled through the truck and left. They said it was too cold and left."

The next morning, Mr. Gouker looked in the truck himself. His two tool boxes, a new socket-wrench set, prescription eyeglasses, cooler, and CB radio weren't among the items inside. Instead, he found "clothing, tools, a banana, shoes. . . . I was pulling the guy's stuff out," he said.

He also found keys, a letter with a telephone number, and two baggies of what he believes was crack cocaine.

Upon finding the items Tuesday, Mr. Gouker again called county police and has since been working with a detective from the auto-theft squad in Towson, whom he praised highly.

The assistant commander at the Essex precinct, Lt. Michael Adamczyk, offered help, saying, "We would be willing to work with Mr. Gouker on any open leads . . . and attempt to identify the person responsible."

First Sgt. Greg Shipley, a state police spokesman, looked into Mr. Gouker's account to see why the truck was towed.

The owner and driver at the towing company said state police said nothing about gasoline when they called to have Mr. Gouker's car towed. The driver, who asked not to be identified, said the truck was on a safe shoulder, and that he heard Mr. Gouker tell two troopers that the truck was full of things that weren't his.

But Sergeant Shipley said the truck had to be towed because the steering column had been damaged and hot-wired, "so the trooper didn't know whether it could be driven and didn't feel it was safe to drive from there."

Sergeant Shipley said, a trooper "went through the truck with the victim to see what was there, but didn't see any cocaine. He told him to call Baltimore County, so we wouldn't have two police agencies on the same case."

Mr. Gouker said the truck is driveable.

He questioned why police passed up a chance to catch a thief, possibly with drugs, when he first found his truck, then let the evidence go.

In any case, he's taking no more chances: His pickup is now fortified with a steering-wheel bar, a locking gas cap, and two alarm systems -- with sirens.

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