Lack of $2 stops slaying suspect's flight Alert toll collector credited with catch

August 30, 1996|By Robert A. Erlandson and Richard Irwin | Robert A. Erlandson and Richard Irwin,SUN STAFF

For want of $2 to pay a Maryland toll, Jason Michael Vann was in police custody yesterday -- on his way back to Alabama and charged with the slaying of a college official.

An alert collector at the Perryville toll plaza on Interstate 95 recognized the suspect's car Wednesday afternoon from a state police advisory and, when Vann could not pay the toll, stalled him long enough for police to arrive.

Three police detectives from Mountain Brook, Ala., arrived in Elkton yesterday with a warrant charging Vann with first-degree murder in the death Monday of Robert Dortch, 63, vice president in charge of enrollment at Birmingham-Southern College. Vann waived extradition.

Vann, 20, driving Dortch's Honda, reached the tollbooth north of the Susquehanna River about an hour after he tried to use the victim's credit card at Macy's at White Marsh Mall.

Baltimore County police had notified state police of the attempt, prompting an alert to all toll collectors and troopers that the suspect might be driving north on the interstate.

Lori A. Vidil, spokeswoman for the Maryland Transportation Authority, said the collector -- whose name she would not divulge -- recognized the car as soon as Vann drove up to her booth.

When he couldn't pay the $2 toll, she called for a trooper on the pretext of taking the driver's pledge of future payment.

Meanwhile, Vidil said, Vann asked the collector if police would check his license. She pretended not to know and kept the man talking in the lane until Cpl. Paul Quill arrived and arrested the suspect without incident.

"She's only been on the job for nine months. We're very proud of her," Vidil said of the collector.

Dortch, a college official for 30 years, was found tied, shot and stabbed in his home Tuesday after he did not show up for work, said Lt. Charles A. Maske of the Mountain Brook police.

The Alabama officer said "there was no known relationship" between Dortch and Vann, whom he said has a police record for violence.

Vann was charged with killing his gay lover in 1993 during an argument, but he was acquitted in that case in 1995. Maske said Vann has assault charges pending against him in incidents not related to the Dortch murder.

RTC Vann is from Trussville, Ala.

Maske said police tracked the suspect's flight from his use of Dortch's credit card through Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina and Maryland.

Maske said his investigators were on the telephone with Capitol Heights Police, in Prince George's County, when word came of an attempt to use the credit card at the White Marsh Macy's store. Video surveillance cameras there captured the first picture of the suspect, he said.

Pub Date: 8/30/96

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