Samaritan is punished his assailants go free


November 22, 1996|By DAN RODRICKS bTC

By the time Mike Donlan stepped out of the Memory Lane club and onto West Hamburg Street, his ears were ringing from the sounds of a pop-punk band that goes by the assassin-actor name of Lee Harvey Keitel.

Donlan's friends are in that band. He'd gone to Memory Lane to hear them. Now it was about 2 a.m. and, with the club closing, Donlan wanted to get back to his Race Street rowhouse, near the old gas tanks in South Baltimore, a few blocks away.

But Mike Donlan didn't get there for four days because of what happened in the next 15 minutes.

What happened in the next 15 minutes of Sunday, Nov. 10, might be called an assault or a beating, but it might also be called attempted murder. It might also be called a hate crime. Mike Donlan's older brother, Wally, has no hesitation calling it that. Here's the story, according to the victim.

After Mike Donlan left Memory Lane, he drove away in his pickup truck. "I was sober," he points out. (A Southern District police officer concurred with that.) Donlan made a couple of turns, ending up on Bush Street, which runs through Carroll Industrial Park, along a gritty southern edge of the city marked by railroad tracks, industrial plants and brick warehouses. Bush Street dead-ends at Russell Street.

That's where Mike Donlan stopped his truck. He wanted to make a left onto Russell.

On his left was a vacant lot. On his right was the vast paved lot of an Exxon station, one of the three large ones on the way to Baltimore-Washington Parkway or Interstate 95. Some nights, at certain hours, certain lots along Russell Street fill with young men and women who stop to hang for a while before hitting the highway. This frequently happens in the wee hours, just after crowds start moving out of the local clubs.

As Donlan, who is 31 years old, waited for the light to change, he noticed a crowd of young men, most appearing between 18 and 20, hanging around cars -- "Lots of Lexuses and nice Nissans," he says -- on the parking lot to his right. He heard the heavy bass of a boom box. He heard loud voices and laughter.

Then he saw about 20 young men break away from the parking lot and cross Bush Street, in front of his truck.

They were walking quickly, almost running.

They were chasing another young guy, whom Donlan described as "Latino or olive-skinned."

They caught him on the vacant lot to Donlan's left. They pulled on him. They punched him. They knocked him down. They kicked him. First three were doing the kicking, eventually a dozen, maybe more. "They were just beating the ---- out of this guy," Donlan says. "This whole thing was happening no more than 20 feet away from me."

Donlan put the truck in park, opened the door and got out.

"I just started yelling," he says. "Yelling, 'Hey! Hey! Stop!' And yelling just a lot of nonsense, noise really, to make them get off the guy."

Donlan took a few steps away from the truck. He waved his arms over his head. The beating stopped. The victim got up and ran north along Russell Street. For a moment, the gang that had been around him seemed to break and scatter.

Then Donlan heard the racial epithets. They came in a shower of foul language and laughter. Donlan is white. He says all of the young men around him were black. Several made reference to his skin color as they yelled their ridicule at his attempt to stop the beating of a stranger.

As Donlan started back toward his truck, he saw one of the young men dart ahead of him, reach into the cab, grab Donlan's flannel coat and run away.

Right then, Donlan spotted an attendant behind the windows of the cashier's station at the Exxon station. He moved in that direction. As he did, the lights went out.

"The last thing I remember," he says, "is being 15 feet away from the attendant. ... and the next thing I remember is waking up on a curb near the [Exxon attendant] with blood everywhere, coming from my skull, my eye and my nose. ... I didn't know where I was. It was all mush. I stood up and fell back down. This cop started asking me questions, then the ambulance guys came and took me to University [Hospital]."

He had been knocked unconscious in a terrible beating. (One of the few witnesses to this incident told Wally Donlan that "three or four" young men had beaten or kicked his brother.) Cracked skull. Nasal septum pushed way out of place. Head swollen like a basketball. "Road rash," probably from being dragged over pavement, across his face. When Wally Donlan arrived at the emergency room, he didn't even recognize his little brother. "It just about broke my heart," he says.

Surgery took place two days later. Three metal plates were inserted under the skin of Mike Donlan's face. Doctors put the septum back where it belonged. As of this week, his face was still a mess. "No feeling on the right side," Mike Donlan says. "There's a ghost feeling there."

And his assailants?

Nowhere to be found. Police didn't have much to go on from the start: Three black males. Two fled in one vehicle, one by himself in another. One car was a green Toyota Camry. The other vehicle was a burgundy truck. No tag numbers.

Tough case.

Made tougher by the circumstances: Mike Donlan refused to look the other way, and he almost got killed for it. For his sake, and out of a sense of justice, this case deserves another look. Who knows? Maybe Donlan's attackers are young fools foolish enough to return to the scene of their crime, same time, some Sunday morning.

Pub Date: 11/22/96

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