All in a day's work: School bus driver charged in bank robbery

THIS JUST IN...

October 21, 1994|By DAN RODRICKS

Have you heard about the bank robber who made his getaway with a school bus -- while the kids were inside? I swear-ta-gahd it happened right here in Charm City, on Thursday, Oct. 6, and those who have heard the tale are still

shaking their heads over it. "A unique case," is how Lt. Larry Leeson, with 24 seen-everything years on the city police force, described the episode. It's not often a bus driver tries to squeeze a stickup into his afternoon schedule.

Here's what the cops say happened: About 2:28 p.m., a guy walked into the Mercantile Safe Deposit and Trust on Roland Avenue, near Eddie's. He told a teller he had a gun and demanded cash -- all $100 bills. (Must have been a member of what an FBI agent I know calls "The Century Club.") The teller did as ordered and then some; she made sure the robber took an explosive dye pack with him. The man ran out of the bank and behind the Roland Park post office, where the dye pack went splat. This made a mess of the money and the man's coat, so he dropped both and ran. He also dropped a wig, sunglasses and a black hat.

From there, the man went back to work. He immediately returned to the school bus he had parked near Roland Park Middle School and waited to drive 18 students home. (The man was employed by AJ Transportation, a bus company that has a contract with RPMS parents to drive their children to and from school for $7 a day.) The man then transported each student home and returned his bus to AJ Transportation on West Baltimore Street. That's where police, led by Det. Kenneth Welsh, arrested him at 4 p.m.

How did the cops know where to find their man? He had left an AJ Transportation manifest form in his discarded coat. Leeson identified the suspect as 37-year-old Sammie Warren of Argyle Avenue in Baltimore. Police tell me he has a record of drug-related arrests going to 1983. So why did AJ Transportation hire him in September?

"He passed a drug test and a physical exam," says Reginald Franklin, director of AJ Transportation. "We looked at his driving record and it was clean. I checked with the [Department of Education] and found that he had worked for two other bus companies. He came to work every day and appeared no different than anyone else."

Franklin says Warren's criminal background check had not been completed by the time the school year began. (Franklin complained that the state police take up to eight weeks to report results.) But Warren was put to work because "there was no clear reason to doubt him," Franklin says. Had he known of the drug-related arrests, he would not have hired him.

Franklin told the parents of the RPMS students about the robbery the Monday after it occurred. Nothing like it had happened in his 12 years of directing a bus company. "I have a 13-year-old son myself," Franklin says, "and I can relate to what a parent would feel like in that situation."

NB Where's Mr. Sammie? In jail on $75,000 bail. Happy to hear it.

World Series ring

A popular and prominent Baltimorean -- I've sworn to keep his name under wraps for now -- has donated his 1983 World Series championship ring for an auction to benefit St. Dominic's, the 75-year-old Catholic elementary school in Hamilton. Auction organizers were awed by the donation, which, according to master collector Rob White, could be worth several thousand dollars. How much the ring brings at auction will depend on the donor's willingness to be identified by the night of the event. (So far, he has asked for anonymity.) The donor was among the happy band of men to receive the ring after the Orioles won the series in Philadelphia 11 years ago this week. "We were just overwhelmed by that donation," says Lance Berkowitz, the Hamilton pharmacist who is chairing the event. "We've been trying to raise $100,000 for St. Dominic's because the Archdiocese says the Catholic schools have to be independently funded and self-sustaining, and urban schools, like St. Dominic's, are really being crushed." The auction will be held at 7:30 p.m., Nov. 5 at Martin's Eastwind. Tickets are $30. If you want to attend, call 426-0797.

Can't get it right

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