'Lost an ideal police officer' Police try to reconcile eyewitnesses' reports as Baltimore mourns

November 01, 1998|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

Officer Ty C. Crane's frantic call for help came at 8: 07 a.m. He had been pushed, then hit, by a disorderly man on North Charles Street. He needed a van to haul away his handcuffed prisoner. Fast.

Blocks away and driving separate vehicles, Officers Keith L. Owens and Lavon'de Alston flipped on their lights and sirens and sped to their colleague's aid -- and a tragic collision.

The squad car driven by Alston hit the prisoner van driven by Owens at Maryland Avenue and West 20th Street on Friday morning, killing 28-year-old Officer Harold J. Carey, Owens' passenger.

Traffic investigators were sorting through conflicting witness accounts yesterday as Baltimore mourned the death of Carey, a Douglass High School graduate who died protecting the city where he was raised.

"We have really lost an ideal police officer," said Willie Tyler, a resident of Tioga Parkway, where Carey grew up. "He respected everybody from the little folks on up. Anything you could say that was good would fit Harold. America needs more people like Harold Carey."

The accident left the Police Department shaken as officers wondered how a routine call could end in tragedy. They speed to each other's aid every day, sometimes disregarding rules that require a stop at every red light to ensure the intersection is clear.

"The rule of thumb is that if you have an accident, you are not going to get there," said Lt. Jos C. Gutberlet, a traffic investigator. "If you don't respond safely, you are not going to be any good to the officer or the citizen who requested help."

Owens was driving the van south on Maryland when it collided with Alston's cruiser, which she was driving east on 20th Street. The impact sent the van skidding on its side, on top of a parked Chevrolet Monte Carlo, and into the brick wall of a seniors' high-rise.

It took firefighters an hour to reach the victims trapped in the crumpled van. Carey was dead; Owens suffered head and spinal cord injuries. He was listed in serious condition yesterday at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

Alston was released from Shock Trauma yesterday. George Green, 61, who was sitting in the parked car, was released after TTC treatment at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Lt. Edwin W. Schillo, who is heading the investigation into the accident, said yesterday that his officers have not been able to determine which driver was at fault. "Obviously, one of them blew the light," he said.

Witnesses told The Sun that the van driven by Owens had the green.

Speeding emergency vehicles pose dangers on any street, but more so amid city traffic and pedestrian activity.

Fire engines, which often travel in pairs, use different siren pitches to alert motorists that more than one truck is headed their way. They also use blaring horns to prompt drivers to move.

Police cruisers also use various siren types, but Schillo said that often doesn't help. He noted a similar crash in Los Angeles several years ago that claimed the lives of four officers. "We drown each other out," Schillo said.

Gutberlet said officers "have to process a lot of information in a short period of time" when responding to a call. Not only do they have to figure out the quickest route, but they are constantly thinking about what awaits them when they arrive.

In this case, the officers were trying to reach a colleague in trouble, a call that always means an urgent response.

"I'm sure this will have an impact for a very long time," said Gutberlet, who helped train Carey at the academy six years ago. "Any time an officer is killed, it strikes home."

Gov. Parris N. Glendening ordered flags to be flown at half-staff. Black ribbons were draped across the downtown Police Headquarters building and at the Central District, where Carey and the injured officers worked.

Carey's family and Alston, speaking through police union officials, did not want to talk publicly about the accident. Owens was recovering at the hospital. "He has a lot more strength today," said Officer Gary McLhinney, the union president.

Carey was married to the former Karen Louden, whose father, Mason C. Louden, is a 31-year veteran officer assigned to the Northwestern District.

Officer Oscar L. Requer, who works in the department's personnel office, met with family members yesterday, but funeral plans were incomplete.

Carey will be buried with full police honors. The last funeral for a fallen Baltimore police officer was May 13, 1997, when more than 3,000 mourners assembled at a church in Bel Air after Lt. Owen E. Sweeney Jr. was shot. The procession was 18 miles long.

A street-wise officer known as the "gentle giant" but awarded the department's bronze star for shooting an armed man in 1993, Carey was remembered by friends and fellow officers as a kind and strong man, with a love of cars and auto racing.

A Baltimore native, he grew up near Mondawmin Mall in a two-story, red-brick rowhouse framed by a trio of pine trees.

Carey had earned about $20 a week waking up before dawn to deliver The Sun to neighborhood homes, said Moses Hammett, 46, who supervised the route. "He was just real reliable. His mom made sure he got out and did his collections."

Pub Date: 11/01/98

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