From man with gun to fun with hon: Highway of life is scenic


March 02, 1994|By DAN RODRICKS

No one knows for sure why the guy in the blue pickup truck pulled the gun. He might have been having a bad day, might have been upset about something another driver did. Maybe he was from Los Angeles, where people have been known to pull guns on expressways. As I said, no one knows for sure. The guy reportedly told arresting detectives that he was tired of people messing with him, though his exact words were a little more colorful than that. This was one angry, right-on-the-edge, mad-by-the---board guy.

Here's what happened:

Last Thursday afternoon, about 4 o'clock, four men were driving up the Jones Falls Expressway in a four-door Chevrolet. The driver, Robert Downs, noticed in his rearview mirror a blue pickup truck tailgating his car. He mentioned this to the other men with him, John Morcomb, Joe Dugan and Garnell Green.

"Do you see how close this guy is on my rear?" Downs asked.

The other men turned to look. Downs changed lanes. The pickup truck moved behind him and resumed tailgating. Downs thought that was pretty weird. Next time he looked in his rearview mirror, Downs said, "This guy's pointing a gun at us."

The others in the car turned to look. Green said, "Yup, he's got a gun."

The guy was steering the truck with one hand, aiming the gun over the --board with the other.

Downs radioed for help. He could do that because he was driving an unmarked city police car. Downs is a cop. So are his three passengers, all assigned to the drug enforcement unit of Northwestern District. Of course, the guy in the pickup didn't know this until Green pulled his badge. He did that just as the guy with the gun pulled his truck parallel with the police car. Apparently, the guy saw the badge because, seconds later, he hit the gas and sped off.

Downs accelerated just enough to keep up with the pickup. There was no wild chase; nothing like a scene out of "The Getaway." The four cops kept their collective cool. They merely followed the pickup onto the Beltway eastbound to York Road. By then, two city homicide detectives, Jim Hagan and Donald Licato, had heard the radio report -- they just happened to be eastbound on the Beltway, too -- and had joined Downs & Co. in pursuit of the pickup. So did a state trooper, Susan King.

Everyone got together at York Road and Fairmont Avenue when the guy in the pickup -- get this -- stopped for a red light. The driver was a 38-year-old man with a .22-caliber Beretta semiautomatic pistol, fully loaded. Nothing worse -- guy with a gun and a real bad mood. He was charged with illegal possession of a handgun and four counts of assault by handgun. It was a very strange episode. But frightening, too. The guy with the gun didn't know he was aiming it at cops. Could have been me. Could have been you.

Try to understand, Hon

Remember the complaints I received about that Mark Downs sign along the Jones Falls Expressway, the one that depicts a somewhat ditzy beehive-blond woman lounging in an office chair? The sign contains a clever play off the "Welcome to Baltimore, Hon" greeting; it's meant to introduce the HON Inc. line of office furniture. Two women complained that the sign demeans secretaries as lazy airheads, and I thought they had a point, if not a sense of humor. I asked in a recent column if anyone else found the sign degrading to women, and it looks like not many do. (Or care.) I received five calls and/or letters on the subject from offended women. One, who admitted to living in Baltimore (which she called "my city") less than two years, sounded particularly sour about the whole "hon" thing because it lacks, shall we say, a certain political correctness. (Well, exkewse me, hon!) And she really didn't like the Mark Downs sign. Here's what she said: "The woman depicted [on the billboard] looks blowsy and boozy -- a stereotype of the friendly, 'low class' [expletive deleted] who might address you as 'hon.' My own experience of office work in this city suggests that a single one of these women has more class than a conference room full of Ivy League-educated, Ruxton-based executives (male or female)." The letter writer is named Elizabeth. Hey, Liz -- may I call you that? -- you're still new to Baltimore; be careful how you refer to users of "hon." You might offend somebody's mother. Same goes for the other indignant women who complained about the "hon" connection. It's my feeling that you're all in dire need of humor injections.

That 3-letter word again

By the way, there have been dozens upon dozens of calls from people favoring inclusion of "hon" in a Baltimore welcome sign. The vast majority have been from women who, assumedly, see this for what it is -- something folksy and mildly amusing. A City Council bill, introduced by Councilman Tim Murphy Monday, would authorize a welcome sign that includes "hon" along the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. "It's an expression that evokes Baltimore's charm," he says. "I see no logical reason for not including it in a salutation or greeting. It's something that can give everyone a little chuckle. Baltimore has a cultural environment that can accommodate many different expressions of welcome." If the council approves the bill, I have a line on design and construction of, even landscaping around, the sign -- at no charge to the city.

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