Don't try this at home

November 12, 2007

Witnesses to a crime scene are generally not urged to put themselves at risk, and certainly no one would expect an 80-year-old man recovering from a debilitating illness to capture a burglar and hold him until police arrive.

But true to his nature, retired Baltimore Circuit Judge Thomas Ward defied conventional wisdom last week with a heroic gesture his neighbors hope will make future intruders think twice.

As Mr. Ward's longtime friend and a former state senator, Julian L. Lapides, put it: "I wouldn't recommend anyone else do what he did, but it lets people know that Bolton Hill isn't full of patsies."

In an era when people often choose to look away from trouble, fearing to get involved, Judge Ward's recent decision to respond to a cry for police help as a stranger sought escape from a neighbor's yard was all the more extraordinary. In fact, a younger man who passed by during the fracas offered no assistance.

But Judge Ward is a man of extraordinary tenacity.

He bucked Baltimore's legal establishment to win a seat on the city Circuit Court - though it took four tries at the polls. And over the past year, he fought his way back in record time from Guillain-Barre syndrome, a disease of the nervous system, to resume part-time service on the bench.

The story of Judge Ward's heroics might have had a much different ending if the man he tackled had been armed with more than a screwdriver. But as it worked out, police were able not only to arrest the suspect but also to recover two stolen credit cards, keys to a BMW and a woman's leather jacket, which the judge used to help entrap his prey.

So let the word go out to those who consider a well-appointed house in the middle of the afternoon when no one is home easy pickings. That old guy walking nearby might just be a lot tougher than you think.

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