City principal struck, killed by car Educator had been put on leave before accident on viaduct

December 22, 1998|By Liz Bowie and Stephen Henderson | Liz Bowie and Stephen Henderson,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Mike Bowler and Jacques Kelly contributed to this article.

A Baltimore school principal was struck by a car and killed yesterday morning after he walked into oncoming traffic on the Orleans Street viaduct, according to school and police officials.

Robert Thomas, 51, principal of Charles Carroll of Carrollton, was hit at 8: 04 a.m. by a 1994 Oldsmobile several blocks from the school. School officials said he was apparently walking home from the elementary/middle school after being placed on administrative leave. The reasons for the disciplinary action were not disclosed.

A crisis-intervention team was expected to be at the Central Avenue school this morning to help pupils face the death of the principal, who staff said had been very visible since taking control this fall.

Gary Thrift, one of the school system's area executive officers who was Thomas' supervisor, met with the faculty after school yesterday to tell them about the principal's death.

"Obviously, the staff was very upset," Thrift said. "There's no easy way to break something like this. I just tried to impress upon them that although he had been here only a short time, he had worked really hard to breathe new life into the school."

The school has some of the system's worst scores on the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program tests. It recently adopted a rigid, phonics-based curriculum called Direct Instruction to boost academic performance.

Thrift said he distributed literature to the staff about how to tell pupils about Thomas' death. Vanessa Pyatt, a spokeswoman for city schools, said staff from the central office and a mental health clinic will be at the school today to answer pupil questions.

City police said the cause of the accident appears to be "pedestrian error." The 50-year-old city driver of the Oldsmobile did not make a statement to police, invoking his right to consult a lawyer. The driver, who was not identified, has not been charged.

The principal was on the north side of the viaduct, which has no sidewalk, according to Scott Rowe, a police spokesman, and began to walk south. The principal was hit in the fast lane of westbound traffic. He hit the Oldsmobile's windshield, flew into the air and landed on the back of the car. Thomas was pronounced dead at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Rowe said the accident is under investigation.

School officials met with Thomas yesterday morning to notify him he was being placed on administrative leave. A short time after Thomas left the school to go home, Thrift said he got a call from Hopkins asking for Thomas' employer. Thrift went to the hospital and identified Thomas' body, then returned to the school to tell other administrators and staff.

"It was just sort of a shock," Thrift said.

A five-year employee of the school system, Thomas had been an assistant principal at four city schools, including Northwestern High School and Maree Garnett Farring Elementary School last year before being given control of Charles Carroll of Carrollton.

Ledonia Kimball, who filled in as a sixth-grade teacher this fall, said Thomas "wanted to model exemplary behavior and work habits, and he wanted the children to model them in turn. He seemed to be focused on academic learning, but also on interpersonal skills."

"He loved classical music. When you went into his office, classical music was playing very quietly in the background," she said.

City fire officials are also investigating a blaze at Charles Carroll, which destroyed the principal's office Friday night. Yesterday, the school smelled of charred debris and the office was cordoned off with plastic and its door was sealed with a padlock.

Pub Date: 12/22/98

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