Pimlico group to meet over boy's death Concerns to be voiced after police car kills 7-year-old on street

Prayer vigil at intersection

Some upset by report cruisers' sirens were not turned on

April 29, 1996|By Marilyn McCraven | Marilyn McCraven,SUN STAFF

A Pimlico community group scheduled a meeting tonight to let residents air their concerns about the death of a 7-year-old boy who was struck fatally by a Baltimore police car Saturday afternoon.

Melvin Bettis of the 2800 block of Waldorf Ave. was hit while crossing Reisterstown Road at Virginia Avenue after leaving a corner store. Melvin was the second youngster killed while crossing the street in that area in the past three years, community leaders say.

Yesterday, residents were distraught over the accident that has stirred strong emotions in the Northwest Baltimore community already beset by drugs and crime.

About 5 p.m. yesterday, some 50 residents stopped traffic to hold a brief prayer vigil in the intersection, said George White, a witness to the accident and a close friend of Melvin's family.

"My concern is that eyewitnesses to the accident say the police car did not have its siren on. If they had had their sirens going, that child might be alive today," said Viola Bell, president of the United Hope Community Organization, which represents a nine-square-block area near the accident site.

Ms. Bell's group has scheduled the meeting at 6 p.m. at Evangelical Baptist Church, 4430 Reisterstown Road. The group will demand that a traffic light be placed at the busy intersection, where a teen-ager was killed crossing the street on a bike about three years ago, Ms. Bell said.

Neighbors gathered outside the Bettis home yesterday where Melvin lived with his mother, Leisha Bettis, and her brother Giovanni Bettis. One neighbor, George White, said he was in his car, waiting at the traffic light on Virginia Avenue to turn onto Reisterstown Road when the accident occurred.

Mr. White said he saw two police cars headed west on Reisterstown Road at a high speed with their lights flashing. "I didn't hear a siren," he said. As the police cars approached the intersection, the rear police car crossed the yellow line to pass the other police car, he said.

"It looked like they were racing each other," Mr. White said. "I know they were going 60 or 70 mph."

Conflicting accounts

The police investigation of the accident could take several weeks, department spokesman Sam Ringgold said yesterday. On Saturday, Mr. Ringgold said witnesses had given conflicting accounts. He said the speed of the police car had not been determined.

Police said the police car that struck Melvin Bettis was one of three cars headed to a burglary call on Belvedere Avenue. The driver of the lead car was identified as Officer Robert Velt, 22, a 16-month member of the force.

At the Bettis home yesterday, Melvin's mother was too upset to talk about her only child. Occasionally, a neighbor or friend dropped in to deliver flowers, hugs and words of sorrow.

Straight-A student

"He wasn't one of these wild kids in the street. He was a straight-A student. Everybody who met him loved him; he was just that kind of kid," said Alvina Bettis, the youth's aunt, fighting to keep her composure.

In the child's upstairs bedroom, his aunt pointed to the four perfect attendance certificates on the walls as evidence of his dedication as a second-grader at Pimlico Elementary School.

Then she opened Melvin's diary, which the family had not known he had. Inside the black and white memo book were bits and pieces of a 7-year-old's life: notes about homework assignments, lists of spelling words and words of love for his family.

"Dear Grandma, I love you so much," began one note.

Yesterday, Mr. White and several other witnesses to the aftermath of the accident complained that the police didn't show compassion and concern for the Bettis family.

Witnesses complain

For example, they say police did not offer Leisha Bettis a ride to Sinai Hospital where her son was pronounced dead.

However, Mr. Ringgold said that an officer did drive the child's mother to the hospital. "Appropriate action was taken to comfort the child," he said.

"They should have had a crisis intervention team out here to help the child's mother," said Euretia Parks, who was sitting on the porch of a neighbor, Gaye Lewis. Ms. Lewis lives at the intersection.

A few feet from her property line, neighborhood children have set up a memorial to Melvin, with a blue teddy bear, flowers and messages of love.

Ms. Bell, the community association president, said though a child had been killed and several had been injured by cars at the intersection, her group had never formally requested a traffic light for the corner.

"Unfortunately, it takes something like this to shake people up and say, 'Let's get this done,' " she said.

Pub Date: 4/29/96

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