Carjackers meant to drag victim into fence, jury told HOWARD COUNTY

April 16, 1993|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Staff Writer

The driver of Pam Basu's stolen BMW deliberately drove the car into a barbed-wire fence and metal posts as her body dangled from the seat belt outside, a police expert testified yesterday.

Howard County Officer Scott Wichtendahl testified that the driver of the car was in control of the BMW as it struck a fence and rounded a sharp curve on Gorman Road in Savage, nearly two miles from where the carjacking occurred.

Prosecutors say the the car was driven into the fence to dislodge Dr. Basu, whose body was entangled in a seat belt.

Officer Wichtendahl, who has investigated more than 400 accidents, said there were no signs, such as skid marks, that showed the car was traveling out of control or at an excessive speed.

"My conclusion is that it was an intentional act," Officer Wichtendahl told the Howard Circuit Court jury.

Officer Wichtendahl was testifying in the trial of Bernard Eric Miller, 17, of Washington, who is charged with first-degree murder and 18 other counts for the Sept. 8 slaying.

The prosecution contends that Mr. Miller was the passenger in the car after it was seized, and that it was driven by co-defendant Rodney Eugene Soloman, 27, also of Washington. Mr. Soloman's case has been moved to Baltimore County, where he is to stand trial Aug. 2.

Dr. Basu, a 34-year-old chemist, was forced from her 1990 sedan at an intersection near her Savage home.

Her 22-month-old daughter was in the back seat at the time.

The prosecution says Dr. Basu's left arm was entangled in a seat belt and she was dragged alongside the car as Mr. Miller and Mr. Soloman fled.

Police found a trail of blood and flesh -- described as "body scuff marks" by Officer Wichtendahl -- that stretched about 1.7 miles to just beyond a curve lined by a barbed-wire cattle fence.

Officer Wichtendahl was one of the first officers to arrive at the scene where Dr. Basu's body was found, lying face down, partially wrapped in barbed-wire.

Investigators found a traffic pole and several metal posts that had been knocked down along the curve, the officer said. Part of the barbed-wire fence also had been ripped away.

Officer Wichtendahl provided the seven men and five women of the jury gruesome details of the severe injuries Dr. Basu suffered while being dragged.

"The body was so distorted because of the trauma it was hard to determine the age," he said. He said police initially thought the woman was about 60 years old.

The officer showed the jurors what investigators found at the scene with a brief videotape, which pictured the body, drag marks on the road, part of the car's seat belt and the barbed-wire fence.

Investigators were able to follow the path of the BMW by tracking marks left by Dr. Basu's body, the officer said.

The video shows the marks going off the road and then reappearing just past the fence.

Officer Wichtendahl said he believes that Dr. Basu's body -- not the car -- knocked down the fence posts because the car's tire marks ran parallel to the fence and the car had only minor damage.

Officers found only some scratches along the driver's side of the car, he said.

In other matters, Judge Dennis Sweeney denied media requests for copies of a videotape that Dr. Basu's husband made of the family shortly before the carjacking.

Prosecutors say the videotape shows Mr. Miller and Mr. Soloman walking by the Basu's home as Dr. Basu prepared to take her daughter to her first day of nursery school.

Attorneys for several television stations and newspapers, including The Sun, argued at a hearing Wednesday that the case rTC has already received extensive publicity and that the videotape would have little effect.

But Judge Sweeney said in a 12-page ruling that news reports showing the videotape would make it extremely difficult to get a jury for the Soloman trial.

Prosecutors are to show the videotape to the jurors in the Miller trial in open court next week.

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