He spent most of his vacation money on a $472 cab ride the week he arrived from the Netherlands. And in the 13 months since he arrived in North Laurel, Sasa Nikolic has been the source of one charitable antic after another.
Now he's at it again. This time, Mr. Nikolic, 24, plans to hold a solo bike-a-thon Tuesday and Wednesday and contribute the proceeds to Jerry's Kids, also known as the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
It's just one of several charitable causes he's adopted in an effort to turn what was supposed to be a three-week vacation into a permanent trip.
He and North Laurel resident A. B. Miller, who befriended the Dutchman when he arrived in the area last year, have held or claimed to be involved with several charitable events. All the while, they have been hoping to show Mr. Nikolic's good heart and persuade immigration officials to let him stay in the United States, Mr. Miller said.
Mr. Nikolic said he even became engaged -- just for a day -- to an American woman. A marriage would have given him a "green card" and allowed him to become a permanent U.S. resident.
"I love America," Mr. Nikolic said. "I don't want to go back [to the Netherlands]. It's so boring over there."
But concerns about Mr. Nikolic, Mr. Miller and their charitable projects have risen steadily.
In April, for instance, the two received free use of a dealership's car and a bicycle from the Laurel Montgomery Ward & Co. store while they promoted a bike-a-thon for the Laurel Advocacy and Referral Service. But after media reports about the trips and gifts bestowed on the pair, the dealership questioned their motives.
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. But the men kept the $160 bicycle -- riding in that bike-a-thon and one for the American Lung Association -- and say they plan to donate the bicycle to a charity in Florida.
Now Bipin Aghera, general manager of the motel where Mr. Nikolic and Mr. Miller have stayed sporadically for the past year, has asked Mr. Nikolic to participate in the Jerry's Kids fund-raiser.
Mr. Aghera, the manager of the Ramada Inn off U.S. 1 in North Laurel, said he would be "locked" in a Bowie jail for an hour Wednesday and will call potential donors to raise at least $500 to "bail" him out.
He asked Mr. Nikolic to help him raise enough to cover the bail -- and then some.
Mr. Miller said the Dutchman would begin a lone bike-a-thon Tuesday and continue Wednesday to raise money for the effort.
"I just thought we could get a lot more money if we could get Sasa involved because of the things he has done already," Mr. Aghera said.
Mr. Nikolic has been praised for collecting food from the Laurel area for Elizabeth House, a Laurel City soup kitchen that serves 50 to 75 homeless people each night.
"He has done a lot of good things for us," said Robert Colnaghi, director of the soup kitchen. "He has walked in the community collecting canned goods for the men who eat here. I have only heard good things about him."
Mr. Nikolic, 24, came to the United States in July 1994 to fulfill a lifelong dream, arriving with some savings and a loan from his mother, about $1,050 total.
His dream turned to misfortune, he says, when he landed in New York City and met a cab driver who took him for a $272 sightseeing trip, then agreed to drive him from New York to the North Laurel area of Howard County. That trip cost $472 -- the going rate -- but left Mr. Nikolic with almost nothing.
The tale broke the heart of Mr. Miller, who says he befriended Mr. Nikolic and tried to salvage some of the Dutchman's vacation.
"Nobody wanted this young man to go home and say bad things about America," Mr. Miller said.
With Mr. Miller as his promoter and traveling companion, Mr. Nikolic received a free Florida trip that included visits to Walt Disney World and Universal Studios in Orlando. He also has received limousine rides, hotel suites and visits with many business and elected officials.
What's more, Mr. Nikolic said, he met a woman seven months ago and decided last month to ask her to marry him.
They became engaged July 9, he said. By July 10, it was over. The woman, who Mr. Nikolic said he wouldn't name, returned to her home in Pennsylvania because her father died. He doesn't even know where or how to reach her.