Heroism has exacted a very steep price from LeRoy Baldwin


December 29, 1993|By DAN RODRICKS

The name of LeRoy Baldwin came across a telephone wire from Arkansas the other day -- a name I hadn't heard in 10 years, and a story that was as sad then as it is today.

LeRoy Baldwin should be a sparkling footnote in the dark history of crime in Baltimore. He was a hero, after all.

At great risk, he drove his van into a nightmare on Good Friday 1976. He helped save a police officer who had been wounded when a disturbed kid, armed with several rifles, crouched beneath a third-floor window on West Lombard Street and opened fire on the street below. One police officer was killed, five wounded.

Though he and his wife were trapped in the sniper fire, LeRoy Baldwin managed to drive one of the wounded officers to safety in his van.

Out of the Good Friday Nightmare came The Hero Story. LeRoy Baldwin was widely celebrated for his act of bravery. There was a mayoral proclamation, honorary membership in Fraternal Order of Police lodges throughout the country, and a Carnegie Gold Med- al. There were stories in newspapers and magazines across the nation.

But the euphoria turned to dust. When Martha, Baldwin's wife, died the following January, her husband felt responsible for her death. In fact, some relatives blamed him for it. Martha Baldwin had suffered a mild heart attack during the Good Friday Nightmare. "Maybe," her husband once told me, "if I hadn't stopped [on Lombard Street], maybe Martha wouldn't have had a heart attack. . . . I'm not sorry for what I done. But I'm sorry for what it cost me."

Baldwin said that in 1983, outside the Atlantic City Rescue Mission in New Jersey. He was way down on his luck. Homeless. Ill. Depressed. Penniless. Unemployed.

His life had fallen apart after Martha died. He'd been on the road ever since.

Two reporters called from Arkansas within the last week. They encountered LeRoy Baldwin at a mission in Jonesboro.

He's still way down on his luck. So, not much has changed in the 10 years since I found him in Atlantic City.

Baldwin is a survivor, and I find his endurance remarkable. He's been hitchhiking across the country, picking up jobs here and there, sleeping wherever he finds shelter. According to the reporters who interviewed him, he still tells the story of Good Friday 1976, Lombard Street, Baltimore, when he saved a police officer's life. That officer, James Brennan, lived to see the birth of his son a few months later.

I guess that was not sufficient consolation for poor old LeRoy Baldwin, 66 now, still mourning his wife, still wandering the country, still trying to find his way.

Fleet's second settlement

Last month, an item in this column poked fun at the small settlements -- less than a dollar in most cases -- some Maryland homeowners were getting as a result of that widely publicized lawsuit brought against Fleet Mortgage Corp. The suit alleged that Fleet overcharged consumers for their mortgage escrow accounts. Well, it turns out there were two legal actions against Fleet. One was a private class action filed in Illinois, the other a lawsuit brought by attorneys general from 27 states. The first suit only covered interest due on surplus escrow accounts and private attorneys took their share out of the settlement, according to Joe Curran, the Maryland AG. That's why the first set of checks to consumers were so puny. The second suit, filed in New York, is the big enchilada. It will require Fleet to refund excess escrow funds. "It is estimated that there will be a total of $150 million refunded to nearly 1 million consumers nationwide," Curran said. Of that, $3.5 million will go to 23,344 Marylanders. The refund checks will be mailed in June. Average refund will be $146. Hope this helps your 1994 financial planning.

'Road huntin' ' rage

Some call it "road-huntin'." I think of it as drive-by shootin', country-style. Say you're motoring down a semi-rural road in your pickup truck. And say this truck is equipped with loaded guns on a gun rack. And say you suddenly spot a big ole buck along the edge of a harvested cornfield.

Well, you just pull the ole Browning off the rack, aim and fire. Blam! Blam! Right from the driver's seat. You never have to leave the comfort of the truck. That's road-huntin'. It's illegal. (Whatever happened to fun, right?)

Maryland Natural Resources Police picked up a couple of road-shooters Monday evening along Cameron Mill Road in Parkton. These boys -- heck, one was 33 years old, the other 28 -- were shootin' at a stuffed decoy deer 75 yards away. It was an NRP trap!

The police seized the hunters' -- if you want to call them that -- weaponry: a Browning 12-gauge, a Remington .270 bolt-action and a Black Knight .50-caliber muzzleloader. Taking away their toys might hurt these Nimrods -- or should that be Numbrods? -- even more than the fines: $3,000 maximum for each.

The rug fund

Remember William Donald Schaefer's effort to collect money for a new toupee for Bad Sammy Donaldson after the ABC newsman gave the Guv a hard time about gubernatorial perks on "Prime Time Live"?

Here's a follow-up from the latest Harper's Index in Harper's magazine: "Contributions made to the Sam Donaldson Hairpiece Replacement Fund: $90."

Harper's names the governor as the source of its data. Ninety bucks. Not bad, eh? Ought to be enough for a rug -- maybe two -- as good as the one there now.

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