1 killed, 12 robbed in violent city spree

5 people held in series of holdups, carjackings

November 24, 1999|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

A group of men and a woman went on a 5 1/2-hour crime spree described by Baltimore police as "random and reckless" that ended early yesterday with one person dead, four others carjacked and 12 people held up at gunpoint.

Police took five suspects -- four men and a woman -- into custody at a $55-a-night Pikesville motel room after a Baltimore County police officer found two stolen cars parked outside. Detectives said they found two 9mm handguns in the room.

Also in the room were two teen-age boys who, according to Baltimore Police Detective Irvin Bradley, face only narcotics charges. Bradley said all the suspects live in Baltimore.

"It was a spree of havoc," said Col. John E. Gavrilis, chief of the Criminal Investigation Bureau. "This seems to be a very well-coordinated effort, and very well planned."

The person who was killed was identified as Tacy Raino Ranta, 50, of the 4500 block of Parkside Drive in Belair Edison. Police said Ranta was shot in the chest near his home.

"It's really scary that a homeowner can be gunned down a block from your own home," said the Rev. David Smith, the victim's pastor at Memorial Community Church. "I guess this proves things like this can happen anywhere."

Investigators said they planned to charge four of the suspects with Ranta's killing early today, but they had not filed charges or had warrants issued as of last night because detectives continued to interview the suspects, victims and witnesses.

Besides murder, the five were expected to be charged with carjacking, armed robbery and deadly weapon violations.

The attacks occurred between 6: 45 p.m. Monday and minutes after midnight and were scattered about North and Northeast Baltimore -- from York Road near Belvedere Avenue south to Harford Road near Clifton Park.

Police said the robberies had a cascading effect. An Oldsmobile stolen from York Road at 8: 45 p.m. was used in a carjacking of a Chrysler at 9: 30 p.m. That Chrysler was used in two robberies and another carjacking, police said.

Victims ranged from people coming home from work, such as Giant Foods manager Charles Humen, to a Morgan State University student whose car was stolen after the robbers rammed it with another car.

Most of the people were held up at gunpoint, but one man reported being hit repeatedly in the head with a baseball bat before having $35 stolen from his pants pocket.

Scary experience

"It was very scary," said Humen, 38, who has lived in the Hamilton neighborhood for 13 years and said he had never before been a victim of a crime.

Humen told police he had arrived home from work about 9: 30 p.m. when a red Oldsmobile Achieva pulled up behind him and two men got out. A man with a black handgun ordered him to his knees, robbed him and his passenger of $570 and stole his car.

Police said they are trying to build an evidence trail that links the people in custody -- two of them juveniles -- to the crimes.

Investigators said the suspects knew each other, but police are not sure how or why the alleged spree was carried out.

Maj. Jeffrey R. Rosen, commander of the homicide unit, said it is unclear whether anything was stolen from the slain man or why he was killed. Most victims reported being threatened with a phrase similar to: "Give me your money or I'll kill you."

Rosen would say only that detectives "believe there is a connection between the guns, the suspects and the homicide."

Ranta, a former Baltimore schoolteacher, was active in the transsexual community and was a leader of Tranquility, the Gay and Lesbian Community Center for people interested in changing their gender. Police said they have no evidence to suggest a motive other than attempted robbery.

"As far as the work [Ranta] did for the transgendered community, [he] was a true community activist," said Michael Linnemann, a friend of the victim and the center's coordinator. "It will definitely be a loss, but hopefully people will come forward to finish the work that [he] started."

Ranta also had lobbied in Annapolis on hate crime bills and fought for the legal right for people to change their names and gender designation on driver's licenses.

Smith said Ranta, wearing women's clothing, was attacked as he walked home from the European Union, a bar he frequented in the 4200 block of Belair Road.

Time line of crime spree

The first attack -- with the baseball bat -- occurred about 6: 45 p.m. in the 2500 block of Harford Road near Clifton Park. That was followed almost two hours later by a holdup in the 2600 block of Erdman Ave., in which a man was robbed at gunpoint of $60 and his Pittsburgh Steelers jersey.

A few minutes later, in the 6000 block of York Road, outside an apartment complex, a woman who had just returned from the grocery store was held up.

According to the police report, a man pointed a handgun at her and said, "You know what time it is." She said the man drove off in her 1998 Oldsmobile Achieva.

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