Man held in bus theft had dispute with MTA Police arrest suspect after 80-mile chase

November 07, 1996|By Peter Hermann and John Rivera | Peter Hermann and John Rivera,SUN STAFF

A man charged with stealing an MTA bus from a Baltimore garage and leading police on a wild chase into Virginia was angry with family and a transit officer who arrested him last year, police said yesterday.

Dewane Edward Rickman "was mad at some people," said Virginia State Police Lt. M. G. Millner, who supervised part of the 80-mile chase Tuesday night. "Part of it was domestic and part of it had to do with a police encounter in Baltimore."

Millner would not elaborate on the domestic problem.

Mass Transit Administration Police in Maryland had charged Rickman on Jan. 4, 1995, with trespassing after he allegedly climbed over a fence at the Owings Mills metro station and with failing to pay the $1.25 subway fare.

But a clear motive for the three-hour odyssey by the blue and white MTA bus was unknown last night. It began in Pigtown and ended north of Fredericksburg, Va., leaving a trail of accidents, blown tires and exhausted police.

"I've been in chases before, but none that lasted this long," said Maryland State Police Tfc. Roy Younger, whose vehicle used a half-tank of gas in the pursuit.

Rickman was ordered held without bail yesterday in Prince William County, Va., on charges of driving under the influence of drugs, reckless driving and failing to stop for police. More charges are pending. Police are awaiting lab tests to identify the suspected drugs.

Rickman also is the subject of an arrest warrant for failing to appear in court for the subway charges.

He lives with his wife, Debbie, and their 3-month-old daughter, Angela, in a two-story rowhouse in the 1900 block of Wilhelm St. in Southwest Baltimore.

Police said Rickman took the bus from the MTA garage in the 1500 block of Washington Blvd. in Pigtown Tuesday night. As is routine, the driver had left the engine running so maintenance workers could check the transmission.

Security not an issue

Anthony Brown, an MTA spokesman, said, "There doesn't appear to be any breakdown in our security procedures." He said a man apparently walked through a gate left open for buses, got on board one and drove off.

"These buses are automatic [transmission], but there are certain operating procedures to drive one of the buses," Brown said. "It's an assumption that he had some familiarity with driving a piece of equipment this large."

About 10: 15 p.m., Maryland troopers spotted the bus heading south on Interstate 95 near Route 175 in Howard County after several motorists called 911 from car phones to report a bus weaving down the highway.

The bus, empty of passengers, briefly meandered into Columbia before getting on Baltimore-Washington Parkway heading south. It eventually got back onto I-95, crossed the Woodrow Wilson Bridge south of Washington and took the George Washington Parkway into Alexandria. There it got onto downtown streets, causing two accidents in historic Old Town.

The bus returned to I-95, where it was flanked by police cars that formed a rolling roadblock in a futile effort to stop it. Speeds during the chase reached 70 mph.

Cruisers damaged

Two police cruisers were damaged when the bus hit them, and five more blew tires when they went over traps meant to slow the bus. To stop the bus, Virginia police deployed "stingers," 10-foot-long scissor-shaped devices with several sharp hollow rods attached that are designed to break off into a tire.

"It appears it took a while for the little stinger device to permeate the tire to where it was losing air," Millner said. "He was able to go for a long time, but as the devices continued to penetrate the tire, it finally reached a point where it let the air out of the tire and that caused him to lose control."

The bus skidded off the highway just north of Fredericksburg. The bus might have had enough gas to travel 250 miles.

'A loner'

Rickman's 35-year-old wife would not talk to reporters yesterday. Lavina Thomas, 31, who lives across the street, described Rickman as a loner who rarely ventured from his upstairs bedroom.

The couple married in July and, with the disability income Rickman received from the government, bought the house on Wilhelm Street. "He stayed upstairs in his bedroom 24 hours a day," Thomas said. "I chastised him to come down and help Debbie with the child, but he told me it was none of my business."

But Thomas said Rickman "was good to Debbie and took her to the store to take care of personal matters and feed the baby. He was a loner. He kept to himself. He would say hello when he came out, but he never hung out. He never socialized."

Thomas said that with her husband in jail, Mrs. Rickman is worried she will lose her child and her mortgage. "She was happy and content and she finally had the house she always wanted," Thomas said. "And now it's gone."

Pub Date: 11/07/96

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