3 hunted in attack on reporter

A second man and a young boy accompanied Schoettler's assailant, police say

March 01, 2006|By GUS G. SENTEMENTES AND JOHN FRITZE | GUS G. SENTEMENTES AND JOHN FRITZE,SUN REPORTERS

The man who attacked a Sun reporter in downtown Baltimore and fled in a shuttle-service van operated by a Southeast Baltimore strip club was accompanied by another man and a young boy, city police said yesterday.

Col. Fred Bealefeld, chief of detectives, said that police still believe one man attacked Carl A. Schoettler, a 73-year-old features reporter who had stopped his car a block from City Hall to talk to the van driver after a minor crash involving their vehicles.

But additional information from witnesses has led police to conclude that the assailant, another man and the child were waiting together at a bus stop near East Fayette and North Calvert streets before Schoettler was attacked Saturday.

FOR THE RECORD - A Baltimore Police Department official was incorrectly identified in an article in some Wednesday editions about a weekend attack against a Sun reporter. The official's name is Col. Fred H. Bealefeld III, chief of detectives.
The Sun regrets the errors.

"The detective has fleshed this out sufficiently enough that we're confident this occurred," Bealefeld said.

The new information emerged as police disclosed more details yesterday about a malfunctioning surveillance camera that failed to record a potentially crucial scene. Immediately after the attack, the two men and the boy jumped into the van, which operates as a shuttle service for a Southeast Baltimore strip club called Night Shift on South Ponca St. The driver dropped them off in West Baltimore, police said.

But a police surveillance camera perched a block away from where the people were dropped off, at West Fayette Street and Fulton Avenue, was not working because of a power failure, police said.

Police said the camera - the kind that flashes a conspicuous blue light - is intended as a deterrent and not for 24-hour surveillance. The failure nevertheless raised questions about the city's elaborate web of crime-fighting cameras.

"No system has eyes on everything," said Bealefeld. "And this camera system was not even designed for that kind of monitoring."

Police released descriptions of the two men yesterday. Schoettler's assailant was described as a black male with dark complexion, medium build, approximately 165 pounds, and 17 or 18 years old. The other man who followed the suspect into the van was described as a heavy-set black male with a light complexion and a beard. He is about 24 years old, police said.

Police did not have a description of the child.

The attack on Schoettler occurred after the collision as he returned to his car in the 200 block of E. Fayette St. about 8 p.m., police said. Witnesses saw a man punch and knock Schoettler to the ground, kick him as he lay unconscious and then attempt to rob him by going through his pockets, according to a police report and police officials.

The three people then jumped into the van and fled, police said. The van's driver - Gregory G. Kulla of Westminster - has said only that he gave a ride to a man believed to be Schoettler's attacker, Bealefeld said.

Police said that Kulla has not fully cooperated with them or confirmed that he also gave a ride to the other man and a child. Police have charged Kulla with making a false statement.

Schoettler, who has worked as a journalist for The Evening Sun and The Sun since 1959, remained in serious but stable condition yesterday at Maryland Shock Trauma Center, his son Daniel Schoettler said.

The city's surveillance cameras recorded the van as it traveled from downtown Baltimore to the western part of the city. But police said the face of the assailant could not be seen.

When detectives attempted to view the video from the malfunctioning camera in West Baltimore, they got an error message indicating its hard drive had lost power, said Kristen Mahoney, the department's chief of technical services. City officials said the camera last recorded video Feb. 17.

The equipment had been inspected Feb. 9 and was functioning properly at that time, she said.

Schoettler's son said yesterday that a recording of the assailant might not have yielded a clear picture, but it might have given some clues.

"It failed. There was no denying it," Daniel Schoettler said.

Bealefeld said the investigation has been hindered because Kulla has not been cooperative. Kulla is a shuttle driver for Night Shift, a strip club operated by J.A. Inc. That company is owned by Jack Leonard III of Westminster, according to state corporate records. The van is registered to J.A. Inc., according to a police report.

Kulla and Leonard could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Bealefeld said the possibility that the attack was coordinated between the van driver and the assailant is "more distant and remote" but hasn't been ruled out.

"We're not ruling anything out at this point," Bealefeld said.

Police were quick to draw a distinction between the blue-light cameras and the less noticeable video equipment scattered throughout several Baltimore neighborhoods that is monitored 24 hours a day.

The blue-light cameras, which cost about $20,000 apiece and are manufactured by Illinois-based RMS Technology Solutions Inc., do not send a live feed to police monitoring centers, but images may be viewed and manipulated by officers in the field using remote controls, Mahoney said.

But the blue-light cameras, when functioning, also hold five days of video. Police acknowledged it is impossible to determine if the cameras are recording properly from the ground. In this case, police had to remove the hard drive from the camera.

In all, the city has deployed 225 cameras, 65 of them blue-light cameras, Mahoney said.

Police said they do not know why the camera lost power, but said the equipment is hard-wired and not powered by a battery. A spokeswoman for Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., Linda Foy, said she was unaware of any power outages in the neighborhood in recent days.

The city's closed-circuit camera network is, after Chicago's, one of the most extensive in the nation. Its construction was funded by a federal grant and is part of a regional homeland security effort.

gus.sentementes@baltsun.com john.fritze@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Laura McCandlish contributed to this article.

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