Fender-bender turns to homicide

Manslaughter case upgraded after prosecutor's review

March 17, 2007|By Gus G. Sentementes | Gus G. Sentementes,Sun reporter

Moments after Charles R. Erdman's old Ford pickup truck had been struck by a sport utility vehicle on Erdman Avenue in East Baltimore, he stepped out to talk to the driver. Standing in front of the auto parts shop where he worked, all Erdman wanted was the man's insurance information, police said.

But the driver of the green Ford Explorer refused - police said the vehicle had a stolen license plate - and hopped back into the SUV and accelerated. He drove into the 65-year-old man, whose head and arms hit the top of the truck's hood. Erdman was pulled under the vehicle and dragged 40 feet on the busy thoroughfare, police said.

The man slowed, opened his door to peek under the SUV, and slightly turned the wheel to jar Erdman loose, a witness told police. The man accelerated again, running over Erdman with the tires, police said.

The incident two weeks ago, on March 3, left Erdman hospitalized for days at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, where he died March 9, authorities said. It took several days more for police and prosecutors to decide to pursue the case as a homicide. Initially classified under the lesser offense of automobile manslaughter, a top prosecutor reviewed the case this week and recommended that it be upgraded to a murder investigation, according to a spokeswoman for the city state's attorney's office.

"From a legal perspective, we felt like it had the elements to be investigated as a homicide," said the spokeswoman, Margaret T. Burns.

Baltimore police have begun an internal probe into whether traffic investigators should have referred the case sooner to the homicide unit for investigation, authorities said. Typically in cases where a person suffers critical injuries and is expected to die, homicide investigators will take over the case.

Police officials said this case has been aggressively investigated since the day it occurred.

The Police Department's public information office was not made aware of the case until after Erdman's death was classified as a homicide this week, and its representatives disclosed details of the incident yesterday.

Matt Jablow, the department's chief spokesman, said detectives were now seeking the public's help in the case. Police released a sample photo of a green Ford Explorer - the type of vehicle that police say they believe struck Erdman.

Co-workers said that Erdman had no family connection to the Erdman Auto Parts shop, a brick building on an expansive lot filled with salvaged cars. But he often talked about how common the Erdman name was in the area, they said.

He worked a couple of days a week delivering car parts to area garages. A co-worker described Erdman as someone who was "private and kept to himself."

"It's terrible that it happened," said the co-worker, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he said police told him not to discuss the incident with the news media. The co-worker said that Erdman was supposed to be off on the day of the incident but had come into the shop to run an errand.

Officer Nicole Monroe, a police spokeswoman, said there was no sign that Erdman and the man fought. But the man got agitated when Erdman and another shop employee insisted on exchanging insurance information, and then jumped back into his truck.

Police described the suspect's vehicle as an early-1990s two-door Ford Explorer. It bore a stolen Maryland license plate, 570M705.

The suspect was described as a black man with a medium complexion who is in his late 30s or early 40s. He weighed about 200 pounds and at the time of the incident wore a white baseball cap, a brown jacket and eyeglasses.

gus.sentementes@baltsun.com

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