Violence hits too close to home

Attack puts newlywed in a coma for a watch and a few dollars

Confronting Crime / The Battle For Baltimore's Future

August 04, 2007|By Gus G. Sentementes | Gus G. Sentementes,Sun reporter

It was her one free weekend amid a hectic schedule juggling work and graduate school, and Anna Sowers spent it shopping for purses and jewelry with friends in downtown Chicago. But she couldn't reach her husband back in Baltimore, who had been out with friends in Canton the night before.

His cell phone went straight to voice mail. He didn't respond to text messages. She called friends and relatives at home. "Have you talked to Zach today? Because I haven't heard from him all day," Anna told her brother, who lives in Canton and had accompanied him on his night out. "Can you go to the house and see if he's there?"

It was Saturday, June 2, and Zachary Sowers had disappeared.

Anna had no way of knowing her new husband had been beaten into a coma just steps away from their rowhouse near Patterson Park. Police say the young men accused of the beating live nearby and stole his Timex watch and used his credit card to rent two action movies.

FOR THE RECORD - A photo caption that accompanied an article in yesterday's Sun incorrectly stated the length of time that Zachary Sowers, the victim of a beating near Patterson Park, has been in a coma. He has been in that state for more than two months.
The Sun regrets the error.

In a city seemingly accustomed to violence and death, the attack on Sowers stood out for its apparent randomness and viciousness. At 27, he is one of Baltimore's survivors, if only by a thread. A Web site launched by a friend keeps people informed of his condition and shows him in better days, and has gotten up to 3,000 hits a day.

The crime has galvanized a community. Tomorrow, more than 25 bars in Canton and Federal Hill have agreed to donate up to 20 percent of their proceeds to Sowers' recovery fund, events that are expected to attract candidates running for mayor in a year in which crime is a central issue.

"It was a case that needed attention," said Lt. Johnny Delgado, an 18-year veteran who oversaw the squad of detectives in the Southeastern District that handled the case and made four arrests - two adults and two juveniles who lived nearby. "To beat a guy to the point of death, for a watch and ten dollars? That to me was an indication that it was not going to end there. These guys were going to get bolder."

The immediate aftermath of the brutal attack was confusing and chaotic. In Chicago, Anna had no idea why her husband wasn't returning her calls. She grew increasingly frantic. The man she had met in high school in Frederick, grew close with over the years and finally married in Mexico in October, was predictable to a fault. He stayed connected to his new wife by cell phone. He was cautious about where he walked and where he went. He was responsible.

Anna and her friends called police and city hospitals, and she caught the last flight home to Baltimore. By the time she got home, she had learned her husband might be at Johns Hopkins Hospital, unconscious and unnamed. A "John Doe."

She arrived at Hopkins about midnight, and a nurse escorted her through a ward. She peered into one room after another. "That one's not Zach, that one's not Zach, that's not Zach," Anna remembers saying to herself. The nurse brought her back to a room she had already passed.

"I walked in and said, `This isn't him,'" Anna said. "And they kind of didn't say anything. And so I looked closer, and I could tell that it was Zach because of his chin and a scar on his shoulder from a past surgery. But other than that, they had basically kicked him until you couldn't recognize him.

"His entire head was massively swollen and his eyeballs were kind of like two golfballs sitting on his head," Anna said.

"I started just hysterically crying. They had to bring out a chair for me to sit down."

The Sowerses, in many ways, are the face of a new Baltimore, willing to gamble on revitalized neighborhoods once struggling with blight, now brimming with promise - the type of residents the city needs to attract if it is to continue an urban renaissance that could be threatened by a resurgence of crime.

Young, newly married and with bright careers ahead of them - he worked in finance for the Johns Hopkins University, she in marketing for Johns Hopkins Hospital - they had rented in Canton and, in late 2003, bought a house just east of Patterson Park. The couple enjoyed hanging out with their many friends at the trendy bars and restaurants in Canton, where houses easily fetch $400,000 or more.

They were cautious, but Anna said they never knew anyone who had been a victim of violence. Sowers would often warn his friends and brother-in-law not to walk home alone. That's why it's so perplexing that Sowers decided to stroll home by himself from the bars in O'Donnell Square on that night.

"He doesn't go out and put himself in a position to get into trouble," said his younger sister Ashley Sowers, 24. "He'd always tell everybody else: `Don't walk home alone.'"

Sowers was attacked on a Friday night, June 1, when two men walked up to him and asked for a cigarette, some of the suspects told detectives. Then, police said, they beat him. An unidentified witness told police he saw one stomp on Sowers' head. The pair ran to a car, where two others waited, and the car sped away, police said.

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