Witnesses recount crash that killed officer in April

Man, 18, accused of targeting cruiser

January 10, 2001|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

Three city police officers recounted for jurors in Baltimore Circuit Court yesterday how they watched in shock as a Ford Bronco driven by a fleeing shooting suspect rammed into their colleague's patrol car, crushing him in a tangled mass of metal.

Officer Dameon R. Carter testified that he heard the Bronco's engine rev after the vehicle landed on top of the cruiser driven by Officer Kevon M. Gavin, pushing the car 109 feet down West Lombard Street.

It was "as if the person driving the Bronco was trying to force his way through," Carter testified.

The testimony came in the first-degree murder trial of Eric D. Stennett, 18, of the 800 block of Harlem Ave. He is accused of intentionally ramming Gavin's car after trying to flee from police in a high-speed chase through West Baltimore on April 20.

A. Dwight Pettit, Stennett's attorney, argued that his client lost control of the car and never meant to hurt anyone. He called the crash an accident.

Gavin, 27, a six-year member of the force and father of three, died the next day after spending 20 hours on life support.

Stennett, who was pulled out of the Bronco wearing body armor, also faces attempted-murder charges stemming from shots fired into a crowd earlier that night near Pulaski Street and Wilkens Avenue in Southwest Baltimore. Police said they saw the shooting, in which a man was wounded in the leg, and began the chase.

The trial, which is scheduled to resume today, is expected to last three weeks.

Assistant State's Attorney Lisa Goldberg told jurors in opening statements yesterday that Gavin had pulled his cruiser into the left lane of West Lombard Street to try and help stop Stennett. The right lane was open, but Stennett headed directly for the police cruiser, which was positioned near Gilmor Street, she said.

"The Bronco does something that no one in a million years expected. It plowed right into Officer Gavin's car," she said, adding that an expert will testify that Stennett was traveling at speeds up to 104 mph.

The officers "couldn't believe it because [Stennett] didn't have to" crash into the cruiser if he was trying to escape, Goldberg said.

Pettit, Stennett's lawyer, said he was trying to get away.

"It might be wrong, it might be careless. It might be stupid. It might be gross negligence, but it is not murder," Pettit said.

In addition to the testimony of the officers who said they saw the crash and the shooting, prosecutors said they have a fingerprint of Stennett's on the magazine of a 10 mm semi-automatic handgun found in the Bronco.

The man shot in Southwest Baltimore, Antonio Dorsey, identified Stennett as his assailant from a police photo array. But the prosecution and defense indicated that Dorsey intended to recant the identification and statements made to police, saying that they were "coerced," Pettit said.

"No civilian witness will take that stand and voluntarily identify Eric Stennett as shooting a gun that night," Pettit said.

Pettit argued that police have changed their stories in their zeal to punish the suspected killer of a fellow officer. Pettit argued that one officer first wrote that he thought Stennett lost control of the Bronco and hit a parked car, but the next day wrote a report stating that Stennett had intentionally crashed into the cruiser.

A black piece of cloth that prosecutors said was found in Stennett's back pocket and may have been used to wipe his hands of gunshot residue wasn't mentioned until October, Pettit said.

The evidence has "been readjusted and readjusted to bring a case to you. I have a problem with that," he said.

Yesterday, Stennett's mother and Gavin's widow were in the courtroom.

Tears rolled down Lisa Gavin's face when Goldberg described the crash.

"It's emotional just having to listen to it," she said. "It's going to be a hard three weeks."

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