A Carroll County man was one of two people shot and killed early yesterday in Armistead Gardens in Northeast Baltimore, highlighting concerns by city police about the dangers to suburban residents involved in the drug trade.
The 40-year-old Hampstead man is the third person from Carroll County killed in Baltimore this year during apparent drug disputes, all coming at a time when police have noted an unusual surge of arrests of cocaine and heroin users from outside the city.
The incident highlights a circle of drug activity in which high-level dealers and struggling addicts from outside Baltimore use inner-city streets to conduct their business in transactions that often lead to violence.
"Suppliers are living in the counties and are selling drugs to people who are distributing them in the city," said Robert W. Weinhold Jr., a police spokesman. "But the people who are buying them are from the county. It's almost as if city residents are being used as brokers."
Yesterday's slayings are particularly frustrating for police, who have blanketed Armistead Gardens in the past year because of heightened drug activity in the neighborhood off Pulaski Highway.
"We do a lot of enforcement activity in Armistead Gardens," said Maj. Arthur Smith, commander of the Northeastern District. "We try, but we haven't solved the problem yet. We've hit a large number of houses out there and, as you can see, we need to continue."
Police withheld the identity of the Carroll man pending notification of his family. His companion, who also was killed, was identified as Eric Melzer, 27, of the 900 block of Armistead Way in Baltimore.
Police had not made an arrest in yesterday's shootings as of last night, and they were unsure of a motive. But a department spokeswoman said, "We have not ruled out that the shootings may have been drug related" because of the location and participants.
Residents who gathered at the slaying scene were convinced that drugs played a role.
"I guarantee you this was about crack," said one woman, who like many others interviewed said she was too frightened to give her name.
"If you are even seen talking to a cop, you are a snitch and you start getting threats," said another woman who grew up in the community of 1,500 homes that were built at the onset of World War II for people working in war- and defense-related jobs.
The shootings occurred about midnight on Fowler Way, which has long enjoyed the nickname of "Jack and Jill Hill" because of the children who play there. Residents gave it a new name yesterday: "Crack and Thrill Hill."
City police began specifically targeting suburbanites two years ago in a crackdown on the east side in which they nabbed several professionals, including a nurse in uniform.
In October, undercover police officers posing as drug dealers arrested 60 people on one street in three hours, including 44 from Dundalk in Baltimore County.
That same day, police said they broke up a "family affair" crack cocaine ring operating on Duncan Street in East Baltimore and allegedly run by a man who lived in a quiet middle-class townhouse neighborhood in Owings Mills.
The first of the three slayings of Carroll County residents occurred in January. Stephen Wittig, 44, of Westminster, was fatally shot in the chest, police said, when he got into a dispute over a bag of drugs on Bryant Avenue in Northwest Baltimore.
Three weeks ago, 26-year-old James Lance Brady of Manchester was shot in a car on Carswell Street, in Northeast Baltimore, after police said he and friend had driven around several neighborhoods looking to buy drugs.
"Money doesn't stop at the city line," said Smith, the Northeastern police commander, "and neither does the drug habit."
The major said that virtually every officer in his district worked Tuesday night in the district's "hot spots," particularly in Armistead Gardens where they concentrated on making drug arrests.
Detectives in yesterday's shootings were not divulging much information.
Police said they believe the shooter or shooters were standing on the north side of Fowler Way, near Quantril Way, which is like many streets in this community -- narrow and lined by small bungalow-type fenced-in houses.
The victims were found on the west side of Fowler Way, a wide street used mainly for parking. The Hampstead man was found shot in the head, lying across the front seat of a pickup truck parked near Spangler Way. Police said a handgun was found by his side.
Melzer, who witnesses said was shot while trying to run away, was found lying on a sidewalk about 100 yards south of the truck, under a sign that says, "No dumping under penalty of law." Police said he had been shot several times in the upper body.
A man who lives across the street said he heard two distinct shots, followed by a five-second pause and then more shots, this time several fired more rapidly than before.
"It was like, pow-pow-pow-pow," he said.
In March, more than 150 police officers swept through Armistead Gardens to break up a suspected teen-age drug ring. They raided 13 houses, many on Quantril Way -- where police again searched for a handgun yesterday -- arrested 10 young suspects and seized 12 rifles, two handguns and 23 small bags of suspected cocaine.
One Quantril Way man said he turned in his 16-year-old son for selling drugs after police raided his house, but didn't find any narcotics.
"He's a different boy now," the man said. "He's been responsible and he's doing pretty good.
"This shooting is pretty bad. It was just getting so we could sleep."
Pub Date: 11/27/97