Police fatally shoot man He might have been suspect in 18 holdups at area grocery stores

Pointed gun at officers

Mother, 4-year-old son witness incident at Giant parking lot

January 19, 1998|By Dail Willis | Dail Willis,SUN STAFF

Under the horrified gaze of a mother and her 4-year-old son, Baltimore County police officers shot and killed a robbery suspect in an Arbutus supermarket parking lot yesterday morning -- a man who might have been a suspect in 18 robberies.

The shooting, which came after a lengthy police stakeout of the Giant grocery store in the 4600 block of Wilkens Ave., also sent bullets into nearby store windows and through at least one parked car. No one was injured, said police spokesman Bill Toohey.

"It happened so fast -- three or four seconds,'' said Ruth Jones, 29, of the 300 block of Fifth Ave. She had just left the supermarket with her son, Jimmy Clark. "It was like the Fourth of July -- pow pow pow pow pow pow."

Police identified the dead man as Eric Eugene Knight, 38, of the first block of Sharonwood Court in the Rockwell section of Catonsville.

Police spokesman Bill Toohey would not confirm that Knight was a suspect in 18 early-morning supermarket robberies that began late last year -- although he said that the store had been staked out in an effort to catch a man who has been holding up grocery stores in Baltimore and Howard counties since October.

The incident began inside the supermarket about 8: 45 a.m. Jones was in line at Register 12, she said, when the cashier glanced at someone standing behind her and then froze.

"She recognized him," Jones said, recalling how the woman's attention had stayed fixed on the tall, thin man who was two people behind Jones in line.

Jones said the cashier beckoned another store employee, whispered something to her and then returned to her customers. Jones paid for the milk and other items in her cart, got her son into his coat and into the cart's seat and left the store. She was about halfway to her vehicle when a car pulled up and a man jumped out.

"He said, 'Police! Stop! Stop!' and I thought, 'Is he talking to me? I paid for my groceries,' " Jones said. "He kept saying, 'Stop! Stop!' "

As Jones looked to see who the officer were talking to, she saw the man who had been behind her in line running across the parking lot. A second car pulled up, and an undercover police officer got out, telling the man to stop.

"The man turned to the undercover cop and pointed a gun at him," Jones said. She ducked, then stood up again to grab her son out of the cart and put him on the ground. Then she watched as events unfolded.

"I saw both cops shoot him. I saw him fall to the ground. It was the scariest thing I ever saw," she said.

The incident left a strong impression on her son, she said.

"My son can tell you what happened -- he's 4 years old. He doesn't need this," she said.

Jones' account matches that given by police, who said yesterday that the man refused repeated requests to stop.

"He pulled a weapon, a handgun, and they shot him," Toohey said. "They have about a half-dozen witnesses to it."

Residents of the apartment complexes across Wilkens Avenue from the Giant clustered in twos and threes near the crime scene tape yesterday after the shooting, watching as nearly 50 police officers scurried around the area.

The body of the dead man lay under a white cloth near Jones' red 1998 Ford Expedition. An older silver colored car that police said was used by the robber sat around the corner, door ajar.

"I work in the Wilkens Avenue Medical Center, and we've been watching the cops stake this place out all week," said Mary Paterson, a regular shopper at the grocery store, which has been robbed at least once by the man dubbed the "Super Fresh bandit" because he has robbed a half-dozen Super Fresh stores.

"One of my fellow employees was in there the last time it got robbed," Paterson said.

"It's a little too close to home -- we come in here at least twice a day," said Michael LaBrade, who lives across Wilkens from the store.

Police could not say yesterday whether the dead man had fired his weapon or merely pointed it at the officers, Toohey said. Jones estimated that at least 12 shots were fired, two of which hit her vehicle and shattered windows.

Had she not stopped in the store to make her son put on his coat, she said, they might have been in the car when the shooting started.

"All I can say is, thank God it took my son a minute to put his coat on. God was with us all the way," she said.

Pub Date: 1/19/98

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