City police criticize MTA pursuit on JFX Transit aides say officers did not exceed speed limit

November 30, 1996|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

A pursuit yesterday by Mass Transit Administration police officers up the Jones Falls Expressway -- triggered by a car making an illegal turn -- is being criticized by Baltimore police, who said the chase endangered lives.

City officers said they joined the chase for about three minutes before they abandoned it and questioned the actions of their state colleagues, who are responsible for safety on public transportation.

An MTA spokesman said his officers followed the car within posted speed limits and vehemently denied that a chase occurred. But radio transmissions show that city police officers involved thought the situation was out of control.

"Is there any way to get in touch with the MTA to find out what is going on before we get someone hurt?" one frantic city officer radioed to his dispatcher as police cars sped north up the JFX from North Avenue.

A minute later another city officer chimed in over the radio: "I don't think [the MTA officers] know what they are doing."

The incident -- which ended in Howard County -- started about 2: 40 p.m. near a West North Avenue Light Rail stop when a transit officer tried to pull over a car for making an illegal turn.

Anthony Brown, an MTA spokesman, said the car took off, hit an MTA police car and nearly hit a transit officer.

Brown disputed the city police account. "At no time was it unsafe," the spokesman said, maintaining that that even on the highway, speeds in the pursuit did not exceed 60 mph.

The spokesman first said his officers are authorized to pursue cars even for minor traffic violations. Brown later said that transit officers are forbidden to pursue vehicles. "A review of the incident looks like they were following the vehicle," Brown said. "At no time were lights and sirens used."

But MTA Sgt. Robert Womack, who supervised the incident, said officers used lights and sirens to go through intersections "for the safety of the general public."

Baltimore Police Lt. Jim Henderson, a shift commander at the Northern District station, contradicted Brown. He called the incident a chase that "was going all over the place. MTA followed [the car] at a very high rate of speed. They were going like crazy with lights and sirens. They didn't know what they were doing."

Brown said the suspect's car went into Baltimore County, got onto Interstate 70 and sped into Howard County, where Howard County police picked up the chase on U.S. 29. Howard County police said the pursuit went to Routes 108 and 175, where the car struck a state police cruiser.

Police said they boxed the car in at a Roy Roger's restaurant parking lot on U.S. 1 and Guilford Avenue, north of Route 32.

Allen David Rugieri, 38, of the 700 block of Harmony Lane in Arnold, was arrested. Charges were pending last night.

Pub Date: 11/30/96

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