Cummings goes to jail as an escort Fugitive asks him to aid in surrender

December 14, 1996|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,SUN STAFF

U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings never envisioned that helping a fugitive from justice turn himself in would be among the duties of his office.

But yesterday, the 7th District Democrat escorted back to jail a 54-year-old inmate who had escaped from custody while being treated at Maryland General Hospital.

Ronald Lamont Ward of the 1400 block of N. Rosedale St. in Cummings' district escaped Saturday night shortly before he was to be released from the hospital, where he was taken several days before after complaining of chest pains.

Nathan Colbert, a correctional officer who had been assigned to watch Ward, told his supervisors that Ward had overpowered him and escaped. Officials were investigating that account yesterday.

Ward had been in custody at the Central Booking and Intake Center since last month on charges of failing to return a rental car and unauthorized use of a vehicle.

"When I won the election, I didn't expect to be doing this," Cummings said. "At least he felt comfortable coming to someone."

Officials said Cummings wasn't Ward's first choice. Over several days, members of the fugitive's family had placed calls to the office of the commissioner of the Maryland Division of Pretrial Detention and Services, saying Ward wanted to turn himself in to a local television station.

Family members told investigators that Ward was afraid he might be injured if he went directly to police or correctional officers. Yesterday morning, Ward called Cummings' office.

"I guess it's the first time a congressman has brought in a fugitive," said Commissioner LaMont W. Flanagan, to whom Cummings turned over Ward.

Wearing a denim vest, a gray hooded sweat shirt and sweat pants, Ward sat quietly, his baseball cap on his knee, as Cummings explained how the day's events had unfolded.

"Mr. Ward called me and said he wanted to turn himself in," Cummings said. "He feared for his safety."

Cummings said he then arranged to meet Ward on a street corner in West Baltimore. Accompanied by a member of his staff, the congressman said, he picked up Ward and drove to the commissioner's office at 400 E. Madison St.

"He just wants to get this part of his life over," Cummings said.

Ward said, "It was the right thing to do. My safety was assured."

Ward would not discuss his escape or the facts of his case, other than to say that he planned to file a grievance against officials at the booking center. He would not say why.

Flanagan said he would grant Ward's request to be placed in protective custody at the Baltimore City Detention Center instead of at Central Booking.

In addition to the November case for which he was arrested, Ward is awaiting trial on a July charge of car theft. He also is to be charged with escape, which carries a maximum of 10 years in prison.

As news cameras rolled, Cummings shook hands with Ward and left. As investigator William Pennington began to handcuff the escapee, Flanagan tried to give Ward his business card. Since the former fugitive had no hands free, Flanagan stuffed it into Ward's vest pocket. "You have my personal attention now, right?" the commissioner said.

With that, the cameras were turned off, leaving Pennington to finish attaching shackles to Ward's ankles.

Pub Date: 12/14/96

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