Towson rink patrons rowdy, car dealer says

April 12, 1995|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Sun Staff Writer

The problem of rowdy youths near a Towson roller rink was aired yesterday before the Baltimore County Council, which is considering a bill to license such establishments.

"I was pretty scared," used car dealer William Fitzell told council members, describing a Saturday night scene several winters past that left him trapped as fights erupted among young people carrying skates, and rocks and feet damaged cars on his East Joppa Road lot.

Police had to rescue him from the lot, Mr. Fitzell said.

He spoke at an informal work session on behalf of a bill by Councilman Douglas B. Riley that would require roller rinks to get a county license -- which then could be revoked if problems were documented.

In an emergency, the county could close a rink before holding a hearing.

But Mr. Fitzell's testimony about the crowd leaving the Skateland rink on Orchard Tree Lane, a block from his car lot, also illustrated an issue troubling some council members -- whether a roller-skating establishment should be held responsible for rowdiness away from its premises.

"If you go up on Joppa Road and scare somebody, then they're going to take our license?" said lawyer K. King Burnett, speaking for John A. Rommel, owner of Skateland.

Mr. Rommel also owns rinks in Parkville and North Point that have not been the subject of such complaints.

"This bill is simply overkill and unconstitutional," Mr. Burnett said.

However, he offered to take a suggestion from county police to hire off-duty officers, who would wear their county uniforms and weapons, to patrol outside the rink to see if that would ease problems that are most evident in winter.

Mr. Riley saw the offer as evidence his bill already has produced the desired effect -- to get Skateland's ownership to do more than control what happens inside the rink.

The Towson councilman and his supporters praised the job Skateland has done inside the rink, in using metal detectors to keep weapons out and security guards to bar gang clothing and troublemakers.

Maj. Johnny C. Whitehead, Towson Precinct commander, told the council the problem has waxed and waned over the past few years.

However, the problem flared again this winter when police found gangs of Govans area youths, some armed, going to Skateland to settle neighborhood turf disputes, Major Whitehead said.

On March 11, he said, 25 officers were needed -- more than twice the normal complement of precinct officers on duty -- to control more than 500 youths leaving Skateland at its 10:30 Saturday night closing.

Several area businesses close early on winter nights.

Dale Livingston, president of the 5,000-home Towson-Loch Raven Community Council, said residents avoid the area and are frightened by the massive police presence and noisy helicopters.

Mr. Fitzell, who manages McKeithen's Auto Sales next to a McDonald's outlet, said he routinely finds car parts missing Mondays. Damage amounted to $8,000 the night he described, he said.

Mr. Riley said he is uncertain if he has the four votes needed for passage of the bill at Monday night's meeting.

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