A thief apparently hoping to steal cars wholesale took a tractor-trailer loaded with 10 new Toyotas and careered through South Baltimore late Saturday night, smashing as many as 15 cars and leaving three people with minor injuries.
Then he bailed out and fled before police could catch him.
"I heard a terrible noise, jumped up, looked out the window and saw the truck hit a van across the street," said Linda Whitmore, 33, who lives in the 1200 block of narrow, residential William St., where the escapade ended. "There was a chain reaction, and five or six cars piled up."
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Ms. Whitmore saw the driver jump from the truck, which then rolled backward into nearby West St., crushing a pickup truck against a closed tavern.
At first, she said, she thought the man might be fleeing a possible explosion or having some other kind of trouble. Only when he disappeared did she realize the truck probably had been stolen, she said.
"Everybody ran outside, and within 10 minutes, I'd say there were 200 people on the street," she said. "Everybody was stunned. It took us a few minutes to understand the magnitude of it."
Police at the city's Southern District were still taking account of .. the damage last night, as calls continued to come in from people whose cars had been damaged.
Police believe the unidentified male thief climbed the fence around Kenosha Auto Transport Corp. at 700 E. Patapsco Ave. sometime before 11 p.m. Saturday and broke into a trailer. From the trailer, he took the keys to the automobile carrier parked outside, started the engine and drove it through the locked gate.
He then drove the unwieldy rig a few blocks and turned north on Hanover Street, crossing the Hanover Street Bridge and hitting cars at the intersection of Hanover and Ostend streets. He then turned east onto West Street, hitting more cars.
Evidently the thief grew confused in the narrow South Baltimore streets, which have cars parked on both sides in front of rowhouses. At William Street, which runs one-way north, he turned south, had his final collision and ran.
Police were still looking for the man last night. They had no description.
Of the three people police said were injured, at least one woman was taken away by ambulance, witnesses said. She was driving a car when the truck collided with it, they said.
"Most of the cars he hit were totaled," said Joyce Bethea, who lives on Hanover Street near Ostend. She was watching television when she heard noise and saw people running past her house. She joined the crowd following the trail of damage, she said.
"I was one of the lucky ones," said Norman Quarles of William Street. His 1991 Camaro was near the end of the final pile-up and ended up with about $500 worth of damage to the front end, he said.
"He clearly didn't know where he was going," Ms. Whitmore said. "If I was going to steal a truck like that, I'd at least have an escape route picked out."
The truck was towed at about 5 a.m. yesterday at the direction of an agent of Kenosha Auto Transport, police said. None of the new Toyotas aboard, which included cars and light trucks, was damaged.