The 14-year-old boy charged with driving a stolen car in last week's fatal Fort McHenry Tunnel crash was one of a group of youths who went on a joy-riding spree in at least five cars taken from several suburban neighborhoods, investigators said yesterday.
Three youths in the group - two 15-year-old boys from Baltimore and a 14-year-old girl from Joppa - were arrested Tuesday night by Harford County sheriff's deputies, who also are seeking several more juvenile suspects in connection with the car thefts.
Only one youth was in a stolen Dodge Neon that was traveling the wrong way in the tunnel early Friday and slammed head-on into a Toyota Corolla, killing two women passengers.
Police said up to nine teen-agers took part in the theft of the Neon and other cars - a crime spree that began Thursday night and stretched into dawn Friday.
"The boys are telling detectives that they were out to pick up girls," said Lt. Edward Hopkins, a spokesman for the Harford County Sheriff's Office.
The youths apparently hatched their scheme during a break from a summer school for delinquent youths in Bel Air, where they had been sent because of their lengthy criminal records and repeated classroom absences, Hopkins said.
Police said the group targeted Dodge Neons because they had read a newspaper article in which police said the model is among the easiest to steal.
Hopkins said the youths would steal one car and drive it until it broke down or ran out of gas. "Then they would simply dump it and take another car," the spokesman said.
Authorities said they have not found all the vehicles reported stolen -four Dodge Neons and one Dodge Spirit. Police said that one youth used his father's car to drive his friends around. One car was stolen from Baltimore County and the rest were from Harford County, Hopkins said.
In terms of reconstructing the sequence of events that morning, "We're only halfway there," Hopkins said.
Police believe that the 1999 purple Neon involved in the tunnel crash was the last car stolen. Investigators said they did not know why the youth drove to Baltimore, but they speculated that the driver might have dropped off the city teen-agers at home and was returning to Joppa, where he lived.
What is known is that about 6:30 a.m., the purple Neon emerged from the northbound tunnel tube and hit a minivan as both vehicles approached the toll booth.
The driver of the Neon then spun around and sped into the tunnel in the wrong direction, hitting the Toyota at about the halfway point.
Killed in the crash were two health-care workers, Oluwasefunmi Esther Apaidu, 32, of Silver Spring, and her friend, Adenike "Nicki" Adeniyi, 32, of Washington. Services for both are scheduled for tomorrow.
The driver of the Toyota, Sadiat I. Olayiwola, 32, of Washington, suffered several broken bones and is recovering from her injuries at an undisclosed location.
Dorne said Olayiwola had no comment on the juvenile automobile manslaughter charges filed Monday against the 14-year-old driver of the Neon. The youth remains in custody at the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School for Boys; his next court date is scheduled for Aug. 28.
The three newly arrested youths were ordered detained yesterday - the boys at the Hickey school and the girl at the Waxter Children's Center in Laurel. They are charged as juveniles with auto theft and unauthorized use of a vehicle.
Hopkins said deputies questioned the brother of the 14-year-old involved in the accident, who told his mother that he was riding in one of the vehicles, but they lacked evidence to file charges. The brother told a reporter that he got out of the car when he discovered it was stolen.
Police interviews with the three new suspects provided the first details of the hours preceding the tunnel accident.
Detectives said they do not have a precise time-line but do know the group tried to steal a car Thursday night at the Sunrise Condominiums in Edgewood. But apparently the youths were scared off when they saw a sheriff's deputy on routine patrol.
A red Dodge Neon reported stolen from Foster Knoll Drive in Joppa was found in Northeast Baltimore with its ignition popped. Police found another Neon, reported stolen from Baltimore County, outside a Joppa apartment complex early yesterday. The purple Neon involved in the tunnel crash was reported stolen from in front of a townhouse complex in Joppa.
At one point, Hopkins said, the group drove a stolen car to Havre de Grace, then stole another Dodge Neon. That car ran out of gas as they drove to Edgewood.
The mother of the boy who was involved in the crash called the Harford County Sheriff's Office at 1:21 a.m. Friday to report that her son and his friends were in a stolen car and were drinking beer.
She described the car as a dark blue Plymouth Duster that she said belonged to the parents of one of her son's friends, who she said were on vacation in New York.
Hopkins said this apparently was the car the youths were using to get around as they searched for cars to steal, though police have not determined if that vehicle belonged to the youth's parents. Police have not found a Plymouth Duster. That youth was one of the people arrested Tuesday night.
The mother has declined several interview requests. She complained after the accident that police did not take her call seriously.
Hopkins has said that the mother gave a vague description of the car and that deputies checked two locations where the mother thought her son might be and found nothing.
A transcript of her conversation early Friday with a deputy showed confusion about the car. "Do you know what year it is?" the deputy asked. The mother answered: "I have no clue. Um, my main concern is they're drinking alcohol, OK? ... And they're gonna end up getting killed."