Traffic light planned at intersection where police cruiser hit, killed child But angry neighbors ask why no arrest was made

April 30, 1996|By Marilyn McCraven | Marilyn McCraven,SUN STAFF

A traffic light is likely to be installed within two weeks on Reisterstown Road near where a 7-year-old boy was hit and killed by a police cruiser Saturday afternoon, Baltimore's Public Works Department director George G. Balog said last night.

"I'll meet with the mayor [today]. We want to make a decision as soon as possible. It will take at least two weeks to get it installed," Mr. Balog said.

Mr. Balog was interviewed as he and a delegation of about 12 city officials left a community meeting at Evangelical Baptist Church, 4430 Reisterstown Road.

About 45 minutes into the meeting, which was called to discuss the accident, community leaders asked the officials to leave after several members of the standing-room audience shouted down Police Department representatives and persisted in speaking out of turn.

Melvin Bettis of the 2800 block of Waldorf Ave. was hit by a police car while crossing Reisterstown Road at Virginia Avenue after leaving a store. Three years ago, another child was killed after being hit at a nearby intersection on Reisterstown Road, residents say.

At last night's meeting, community leaders drew little applause from the 150-member audience when they asked them to endorse the installation of a traffic light. Instead, many in the audience repeatedly asked why the officer driving the car that struck Melvin hadn't been reprimanded or arrested.

"If I hit that little girl in my car tonight, wouldn't I go to jail?" a woman shouted. The audience responded with loud applause.

In an interview after the meeting, Maj. Errol Dutton, commander of the Northwestern District, where the accident happened, said he plans to meet with a committee of residents to address the community's concerns.

Major Dutton said he visited the Bettis family yesterday to express his and the department's condolences. A department motorcade will lead the funeral procession, he said.

Some residents, who said they saw the accident, asked why the cruiser did not have its siren on.

The cruiser that hit Melvin was one of three that were traveling west on Reisterstown Road to answer a backup burglary call from an officer on Belvedere Avenue.

The burglary call was actually a domestic disturbance that was handled without incident, said Sam Ringgold, a police spokesman. "Generally, officers don't use their sirens [continuously] when they're on a burglary call" so that they can avoid frightening away a burglar, Mr. Ringgold said.

The department's investigation is expected to take several weeks.

The officer involved in the accident was identified as Officer Robert Velt, 22, a 16-month member of the force. He is on personal leave and will return to work when he is ready, Mr. Ringgold said.

For some years, learning to cross Reisterstown Road has been a sort of right of passage for area children, residents say.

Melvin's aunt, Alvina Bettis, said he never crossed Reisterstown Road alone. Saturday, an adult friend walked him to the store, but he crossed the street by himself when he returned, she said.

Pub Date: 4/30/96

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