Dutch tourist won't lead fund-raiser

April 19, 1995|By Mark Guidera | Mark Guidera,Sun Staff Writer

Sympathy for Sasa Nikolic, the Dutch tourist who became a celebrity charity case last summer after claiming he was overcharged for a cab ride from New York City to Laurel, appears to be waning.

This week, his stock dropped a tick further when a Laurel car dealership and its publicity firm decided against using the Dutchman as the leading man in a fund-raiser for a nonprofit crisis center serving Laurel's needy.

"Let's just say we wanted the event to focus on who it would benefit," said Barbara Patz of Paladin Advertising & Public Relations.

The Baltimore company is helping Henry Gay Oldsmobile in Laurel organize a bicycling event that would raise money for the Laurel Advocacy & Referral Service (LARS). The event, intended to raise $25,000, is tentatively scheduled for May 6 through May 13. The nonprofit service operates on an annual budget of about $100,000 and runs parent training, transitional housing and eviction prevention programs.

Laurel resident A.B. Miller, who befriended Mr. Nikolic after his fateful cab ride last summer, has spent the past two weeks urging Laurel merchants to sponsor a bicycling event starring the Dutch visitor, who was helped by LARS last winter when he was broke.

Mr. Nikolic, 24, has said he was left with less than $50 for a planned monthlong vacation in the United States last July when he was charged $470 by a New York taxi for a daylong spin around New York City and then to Laurel.

After the cab ride story appeared in newspapers and on a Washington television station, Mr. Nikolic and Mr. Miller received a free trip to Florida, limousine rides, hotel suites and visits with many business and elected officials.

But the Laurel car dealership backing Mr. Miller's latest idea grew skeptical after an April 21 story in the Sun that described Mr. Miller and Mr. Nikolic getting free use of one of a dealership's car and receiving a bicycle from the Laurel Montgomery Ward & Co. store while they promoted the fund-raiser.

The day after the story appeared, Mr. Miller, 51, returned the new Bravada sport-utility vehicle that Henry Gay Oldsmobile had lent him to escort Mr. Nikolic as he trained for the biking event.

Mr. Miller said he returned the vehicle because he did not want people to think he was drumming up the benefit so that he and Mr. Nikolic would get a new round of benefactors.

The two have retained possession of the new bicycle, valued at about $160, which Mr. Nikolic is using to train so that he can participate in the benefit.

"It sort of came out of the blue, but we checked it out and it seemed like a worthwhile thing to sponsor that could benefit people right here in Laurel," said Earl O'Bryant, manager of the Laurel Montgomery Ward store.

He is among the Laurel merchants who embraced Mr. Miller's benefit idea, although details of how the money would be collected, audited and distributed were not clear at the time.

The fact that Mr. Nikolic won't be the hero of the event doesn't bother Mr. Miller.

"It's unreal that this dream is coming together," said Mr. Miller, who said he is unemployed because of back and leg injuries sustained in a car accident several years ago. "I hope all of this makes people more aware of the homeless," he said.

Meanwhile, he continues to look for other fund-raising events in which his friend, who makes picture frame, can participate.

Mr. Miller's ideas include a benefit for a Prince George's County fire station and persuading American Express to sponsor Mr. Nikolic in a bicycle trip across the United States to raise money for the nation's hungry.

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