A mother now has reason for thanks

Joy: Baby taken in Thanksgiving car theft is returned safely to her family.

November 29, 2003|By Kimberly A.C. Wilson | Kimberly A.C. Wilson,SUN STAFF

Rhea Suzette Taylor toddled around her living room floor in Northeast Baltimore yesterday, clutching a lavender cup and charming visitors, unperturbed by her 8-hour odyssey as the unexpected passenger of an opportunistic car thief and the center of a statewide missing child alert.

Baltimore police found Rhea, dozing in a car seat in the back of her mother's stolen 1990 Chevrolet Lumina, about 3:40 yesterday morning, six hours after launching Maryland's Amber Alert system.

The car and Rhea, who turns 1 year old Wednesday, were taken Thursday evening, as her mother carried the girl's sleeping sister into her great-grandmother's East Baltimore rowhouse about 7:30 p.m.

Lakisha Jones, Rhea's mother, left the engine running as she walked 10 feet to the door of Catherine Richardson's house in the 1600 block of Darley Ave.

A man wearing a dark hood pulled down low over his face slipped into the idling car and took off, said Jones, a 30-year-old hair stylist from Hamilton.

"By the time she got in the door, ... the guy had jumped in," recalled Jones' 80-year-old grandmother, Catherine Richardson. "She hollered, `My car's gone, and my baby's in the car!' We just went crazy."

Jones said she chased on foot, wincing as the driver hit speed bumps without slowing down. Then she ran back to Richardson's house to call police. Leaving her grandmother to alert other relatives, she flagged down the next-door neighbor and tried to find her car.

One mile to the north, Suzette Brown was waiting for Jones to arrive at a family Thanksgiving celebration near Herring Run Park. Richardson's call brought the festivities to a halt.

In all, 40 friends and family members joined police squad cars and a helicopter in the hunt.

Jones said she hoped the thief would soon realize the infant was in the car - and that the gas gauge was on empty.

But at 9:38 p.m., two hours into the search, Baltimore homicide Detective Richard Purtell called Maryland State Police to activate an Amber Alert, which uses highway signs and television and radio broadcasts to notify the public of a child abduction.

"It didn't seem like the driver was going to leave the area," said police spokesman Troy Harris.

Yesterday morning, an Eastern District officer noticed the black sedan in Waverly, a block west of Greenmount Avenue, and radioed in the news.

At about the same time, Jones was scanning parked cars from the passenger seat in her aunt's car near Pimlico when they asked a passing patrolman for an update on the search.

The officer told her that her car had been found , but there was no word on Rhea, so Jones followed the speeding police car across town.

They arrived in the 2700 block of Barclay St. to find an alert, cheerful Rhea sitting in the back of an ambulance. The car thief remains at large, police said.

"It seemed like everything was standing still," Jones said wearily. "There was yellow tape blocking off the car and police lights going, all that, and there she is, just shivering and smiling."

Authorities had worried that Rhea, dressed in a sweater and coat, would become hypothermic if the thief abandoned her in the car in temperatures that dipped into the low 30s. But after a thorough medical check at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Jones brought Rhea home later in the morning.

Jones, who has two other daughters - Keva, 11, and Kema, 5 - and an 8-year-old son Maurice, spent much of yesterday sharing the first turkey she had ever cooked - and considering how nearly losing Rhea lent new meaning to Thanksgiving.

"It made you thankful," she said as Rhea climbed over her shoulder. "I think what made the difference was just the prayers and all that looking."

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