City officer killed in crash had come back for action

6-year police veteran felt he couldn't make difference in suburbs

April 22, 2000|By Peter Hermann and Tim Craig | Peter Hermann and Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

Two years ago, Kevon M. Gavin quit the Baltimore Police Department and headed south to police the Washington suburbs, where the pay is higher and the stress is lower. It took only a few months for him to realize he had made a mistake and return.

Patrolling the relatively serene streets of Bowie was not why 27-year-old Gavin, a veteran of the Persian Gulf war and father of a 1-year-old boy, became a police officer.

"He truly cared about people and about why drug dealers were destroying neighborhoods," said Maj. Russell Shea, one of Gavin's former supervisors.

"He wanted to make a difference, and he made a difference."

Gavin, a member of the force for six years, was mortally injured Thursday night trying to stop a teen-ager clad in body armor who police said had emptied a full clip from a 10 mm Smith & Wesson handgun on a Southwest Baltimore street corner, wounding one man in the leg.

Police said the 17-year-old then led officers on a high-speed chase in a Ford Bronco with the gun on the passenger seat. Investigators said the Bronco was traveling so fast that it passed speeding cruisers on west-side streets.

Gavin used his car to block part of West Lombard Street, near Gilmor, but left a way for the Bronco to go around. Instead, police said, the vehicle hit Gavin's cruiser at more than 80 mph. It left no skid marks, indicating that the driver wasn't braking hard.

The two vehicles smashed together and hurtled 100 feet down the street.

Gavin was pronounced dead yesterday evening at Maryland Shock Trauma Center, after having been on life support for more than 20 hours.

"This is not an accident," said Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris, responding to the first death of an officer under his watch. "This is a murder of an officer in the commission of a felony."

Police identified the driver of the Bronco as Eric Stennett, 17, of the 800 block of Harlem Ave. He remained hospitalized at Shock Trauma last night with a head injury.

Sgt. Scott Rowe, a department spokesman, said authorities plan to charge him as an adult in the corner shooting and in the death of the officer.

Stennett's grandmother, Cisylin Harrison, 69, said the one-time Catholic school student -- who every morning put on a blue tie, bleached white shirt, crisp blue pants and polished black shoes -- had slid into West Baltimore's drug culture when he started attending public high school.

"The mother would have to go out looking for him. He turned to be out to be a child who hung out with the wrong crowd," she said.

"He just got this mind of his own that he could do whatever he wanted to. After a while he got wild and wanted to be on the street and we could not handle him."

Harrison offered condolences to Gavin's family.

"I am very, very sorry, and I am praying for the officer," she said. "I know he has a wife and young child. I am very sorry. I know he was just doing his job."

Officers' jobs are becoming more dangerous as police step up their patrols to confront those making Baltimore one of the most violent cities in the nation.

Norris is pursuing an aggressive strategy to map crime and immediately send officers to crime scenes. Last month, officers were on Belair Road to combat holdups when an officer shot an armed man.

On Thursday, officers saturated the Pratt-Monroe neighborhood because of two shootings this week, and they were close enough to watch as a teen-ager allegedly shot a man in the leg before jumping in a Bronco and speeding away.

"Unfortunately, the better we get at crime fighting, the more danger the police are in," Norris said yesterday.

The new police leader said he was astounded to discover the young suspect was wearing body armor.

"The severity of the crash shocked even veteran police investigators. It took firefighters more than an hour to pry the Bronco off the top of the cruiser and to free Gavin from the wreckage.

"It's the worst accident I've ever seen," said Shea. "You can't tell the police car ever had a motor in it."

Gavin is the 101st city officer to die in the line of duty since 1870 and the second in as many months in a car crash.

Officer Jamie A. Roussey, a rookie whose cruiser collided with a car in West Baltimore, was killed March 8. Two officers were killed in 1998, one in a car accident and another in a helicopter crash.

Top police officials and Mayor Martin O'Malley attended roll calls at the Southwestern District yesterday and vowed to continue policing the city.

"A safer city will be paved in our blood," said Officer Gary McLhinney, the police union president. "We honor Officer Gavin's memory by continuing to our job. We would dishonor him by doing any less."

Other relatives and friends of Stennett said he had fallen in with the wrong crowd, but they said they do not believe that he shot anybody. His friends called him "Slice" and described him as "very impressionable."

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