Burglary case gives `The Wire' taste of reality

February 22, 2007|By Melissa Harris | Melissa Harris,sun reporter

There is no shortage of criminals on the HBO series The Wire, but should producers want to add a burglar to the cast of Baltimore drug lords, addicts and murderers, Howard County police might have their man.

The show's suburban soundstage - in Columbia, of all places - was the scene of a break-in over the weekend.

Police said a security guard caught Michael Steven Arndt, 25, of Columbia walking through the immense concrete warehouse after he climbed in through a trash chute.

Arndt was carrying an assortment of burglary tools, including a butane soldering torch, vise grip, pliers, flashlight, and rubber and leather gloves, police spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn said.

Arndt told police that he thought the building, in a business park off Snowden River Parkway near Route 175, was abandoned, according to court documents. He told police that he had used his screwdriver to unhinge the latch on the trash chute in the rear of the building.

The Wire - created by David Simon, a former Sun reporter whose credits include two nonfiction books and an NBC police drama - takes an unblinking look at urban life in Baltimore and is entering production for its fifth and final season.

Executive producer Nina Noble said that the show has never been the victim of crime in the city. She said, however, that the Columbia incident was not surprising.

"That's why we have 24-hour security there," Noble said. "Things do happen."

This is not the first time a Simon-created crime drama has crossed the line from fiction into reality.

In 1996, a man who had just stolen $100 worth of Polaroid film from a North Avenue pharmacy happened upon the rehearsal of an arrest scene during the filming of Homicide: Life on the Street. The thief mistook the actors for Baltimore officers, dropped his wares and surrendered, The Sun reported.

For filming of The Wire, producers do not advertise the soundstage's suburban location to prevent people from showing up to try to watch, Noble said.

Most of the filming for The Wire takes place in Baltimore, but directors shoot some indoor scenes on sets at the warehouse, such as ones depicting Baltimore police headquarters and the mayor's office. Equipment also is stored there.

"They're not going to see filming there at all," she said. "The building is closed. It's not open to the public."

Noble said that production will resume in March on the show's final season, which is to focus on the news media.

The show moved its soundstage to Columbia after its third season. The crew had been working out of an abandoned Sam's Club on Eastern Avenue in Baltimore County, Noble said.

Howard County police charged Arndt, of the 6500 block of Quiet Hours, with fourth-degree burglary and possession of burglary tools. A court commissioner released him on his own recognizance.

A reporter was not able to reach Arndt at his apartment yesterday. His trial is scheduled May 1.

melissa.harris@baltsun.com

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