City keeps woman from being

November 20, 2001|By Michael Olesker

AWAY FROM her home in Ellicott City, Holly Hughes emerged from the Amoco station in the 1800 block of Bloomingdale Road in West Baltimore and saw three young men standing by her 1997 Mercury Sable. She thought: Don't go near that car, these guys look like trouble. She turned to go back inside the station. Then she saw the gun pointed at her.

"Come back," said the guy with the gun. Hughes remembered he was dressed all in black. "Gimme the keys to your car, or I'll shoot you in your back."

She thought: Don't argue. She thought: You read about people getting shot every day. She handed over the keys, and the three men drove off. She thought: At least I'm still alive.

What she didn't imagine was the events that would unfold within hours - and the change of heart by city officials to keep her from being victimized a second time.

Hughes, 41, a mother of three, was a secretary at a health care firm until recently. She suffers from diabetes and is now on disability, awaiting surgery for another problem.

Her husband, Charles Hughes, is a service technician. When her car was taken, she telephoned him, and he and a city policeman, Officer Troy Harris, arrived at the gas station within minutes. It was now shortly after midnight, Oct. 28.

"We're gonna find that car," said Charles Hughes.

He and Holly began driving around West Baltimore. Holly's pocketbook was still on the front seat of her Mercury Sable. Inside the pocketbook was her cell phone. They decided to telephone the car. The geniuses who stole it decided to answer.

"We could hear them laughing, and there was music, and there were girls laughing with them," Holly Hughes was saying yesterday. "My husband said, `I don't believe it, these idiots are answering the phone.' That's why we kept going. We heard these girls, and we figured it was a joyride in the neighborhood.

"So we kept calling back. The guys are saying `Hello'. Some girl answered at one point. Another time, somebody said, `I think it's the woman whose car we took.' We kept calling, making sure they were still in the car. We were driving around for a couple of hours. The last time we called, there was no music playing. It was just the guy's voice."

And then there was nothing.

They were driving along Liberty Heights Avenue, around Hilton, when Charles Hughes stopped for a red light and Holly saw a tow truck nearby. It was pulling a 1997 Mercury Sable.

"I said, `Chuck, that's my car,' " Holly Hughes said. "I said, `Go through the light, don't let it leave.'"

The car was a wreck. Officer Karl Klinke was nearby. Two of the guys who'd stolen the car were gone, and the one who'd held the gun was now in an ambulance. He'd driven the car into a pole. The steering was wrecked, and the front of the car was smashed.

The genius who wrecked it was in pretty bad shape, too. The car's air bag hadn't worked when he hit the pole. He was unconscious.

"What we were told," said Charles Hughes, "was that the car was being taken in to be dusted. For fingerprints. And that we'd be notified where we could pick it up."

Sure enough, a few days later came a note - from the city impound lot.

"I thought, `Why is my car there?' " said Holly Hughes. "When I called there, I was told, `They always bring cars here after a theft.' I said, `I thought they just wanted to dust for fingerprints and then I'd have AAA tow it to my mechanic on Liberty Road.' I wouldn't have taken it to an impounding lot."

To add to her troubles, somewhere in here was a breakdown in communications. At the impound lot, Detective Raechell Rogers explained that there would be no fee - for the first 48 hours. After that, charges would mount. Meanwhile, Hughes was trying to upgrade her AAA coverage - to give her more coverage on towing.

By the time she tried to pick up her car, she was told the fee was $347.

"For what?" Hughes said.

"Storage," she was told. "Administrative fees. And towing."

"I'm being victimized twice," said Hughes.

She moved here two years ago from Philadelphia. There, she says, she was a court advocate, a person who assists victims of crimes.

"No one's doing that for me here," she said. "You'd think the city would be a little more flexible with people who are victimized. Instead, they're trying to cash in, charging me money for having a gun pointed at me and having my car stolen."

Yesterday, Detective Rogers said Hughes' case had been reviewed by her supervisor at the impound lot.

"We're going to give her car back," she said. "With no fees."

This is a nice gesture on the city's part - but maybe not the right one.

That idiot who stole the car, and then drove it into the pole - he and his pals ought to pay the impound fees. Just as soon as they're charged for all the other costs involved.

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