Slain motorist had no record

April 27, 1993|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,Staff Writer Contributing writer Melvin Durai and staff writer Ed Brandt contributed to this article.

Stunned friends and co-workers were groping yesterday to understand why Antonio Carlos Towns would try to outrun a speeding ticket Sunday morning, and how a Maryland State Police trooper could accidentally shoot him to death after finally stopping him in Towson.

"Tony knows better than to get out and fight with the police. All of us do," said Martinez Fernandez, 27, a childhood friend and neighbor from Kenilworth Park, the quiet north Baltimore community where Mr. Towns grew up and made his home. "He was a hard-working young man, trying to get ahead and stay out of trouble."

Mr. Towns, 34, who operated a West Baltimore barber shop, was shot dead on Charles Street just south of the Beltway after leading state police on a high-speed chase from Interstate 83 near Mount Carmel Road, where he had been pulled over for speeding.

After finally stopping Mr. Towns' speeding Corvette, two troopers and a Baltimore County officer drew their guns, confronted Mr. Towns outside his car and tried to force him to the ground to put handcuffs on him.

State police Capt. Johnny Hughes said Mr. Towns was shot accidentally as Trooper Chad P. Hymel was trying to holster his weapon in order to free his gun hand to deal with Mr. Towns.

The state medical examiner's office said yesterday that Mr. Towns died after a single bullet entered his right side, broke a rib, traveled upward and severed his aorta.

Although Trooper Hymel tried to revive Mr. Towns, the motorist was pronounced dead at the scene at about 10:30 Sunday morning.

Police said Mr. Towns did not strike or threaten the troopers, or even speak to them before he was shot.

Police found no drugs, weapons or alcohol in the car. The results of tests for the presence of drugs or alcohol in Mr. Towns' body were not expected for at least several days.

An internal investigation was continuing. Trooper Hymel, 27, a member of the force for five years, has been placed on administrative leave.

Baltimore County State's Attorney Sandra A. O'Connor said a grand jury will determine whether the trooper will be charged after state police finish their investigation.

Although she said the FBI will conduct ballistics tests, Captain Hughes said yesterday that state police armorers "are checking the weapon for any possible malfunctions or defects."

Terry Lavenstein, an attorney hired by Mr. Towns' family, said he has been retained "to investigate possible civil rights violations and negligence claims against the Maryland State Police and the state of Maryland."

He said the troopers' actions reflect "a lack of training, and it's happening too much. You have younger police officers driving around very paranoid. There's no question in my mind that when they finally stopped him, that they thought he was carrying something illegal in his car. We're seeing this more and more."

Friends described Mr. Towns as a quiet man with a ready smile who had recently realized his ambition to open his own beauty and barber shop -- Towns' Unisex Beauty and Barber Shop in Edmondson Village. They believe he was returning Sunday from a visit with friends in Harrisburg.

"That's the sad thing about it," said Ben Hamlin, 31, another longtime friend and neighbor. "He never lived that fast lifestyle. It's not supposed to happen to people like that."

In Kenilworth Park, several longtime friends of Mr. Towns gathered yesterday in front of his parents' home in stunned disbelief.

They quickly dismissed any notion that Mr. Towns sped away from police because he was involved in illegal activity.

"Tony definitely didn't do no drugs, and I've known him all my life," said Kevin V. Gresham, 32, pastor of St. John's Freewill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. Nor did Mr. Towns drink or carry a gun, he said.

Their best guess was that he fled police to avoid a speeding ticket.

"I'm pretty sure he was paying pretty much for insurance to have a car like that. He probably didn't want his insurance to go up," said Derrick Boulware, 34.

Some of Mr. Towns' friends doubted that a trained officer could fire his weapon accidentally. But others expressed some sympathy for troopers and the dangers they face.

"It's understandable," said Mr. Hamlin. "They're afraid and you're afraid."

Mr. Towns' friends described him as a star tailback on the football team at Northern High School, where he graduated in 1978. He later worked at the Bethlehem Steel mill at Sparrows Point before being laid off. He then became an apprentice barber, working with his father, Charles Towns, and later at the Edmondson Village Barber Shop.

A year ago, he bought his own shop and was renovating it.

Mr. Towns had no criminal record. The Motor Vehicle Administration computer showed one citation in 1991 for driving without proper registration plates or stickers, and a parking ticket in Baltimore City earlier this year.

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