Baltimore police said Friday they have arrested a man sought in connection with the deaths of two youths in as many days last week — a violent sequence that had investigators scrambling to identify a suspect based only on vague witness descriptions.
The violence began with the fatal shooting of 15-year-old Oscar Torres during a robbery early May 26. That led police to look for a stolen white Ford Fusion — and a suspect. The next day, police say, 20-year-old Kevin Simpson was driving that car when he slammed into a minivan as he fled police, killing a 12-year-old girl.
Injured in the crash, Simpson allegedly fled the scene, where authorities say they found his phone, sparking the nine-day manhunt.
With the help of tips from the public, police arrested and charged Simpson late Thursday with vehicular manslaughter in the death of sixth-grader Shanizya Taft. Police say he is a person of interest in the killing of Torres; he has not been charged in that case.
Members of Shanizya's family said the arrest brings an end to some anxiety.
"I just left her mother's house, and she's doing a lot better," said George Wheele, Shanizya's great-grandfather. "The whole family is doing a lot better now."
Police said the Ford was traveling between 68 and 81 mph when it hit the minivan. Witnesses said the driver of the car got out and limped west from the 1100 block of E. Preston St.
Police are investigating whether Simpson also shot Torres and wounded Torres' friend. The identity of that victim, a 27-year-old man, has not been released. Police said he was last listed in critical but stable condition and was expected to survive.
"We hope there are more witnesses out there who haven't come forward yet," Baltimore police spokesman Lt. Eric Kowalczyk said. "We're looking for connections and tie-ins to the Oscar Torres case."
Early Memorial Day morning, police said, a gunman robbed Torres and his friend, and shot both, killing Torres. The assailant then stole the white Ford Fusion in which the pair had been riding.
The following night, police officers said, they spotted the car in East Baltimore and followed it. The driver, who police said had been seen wearing a ski mask, eluded officers and crashed into the vehicle carrying Shanizya, killing her and injuring her sister and their mother.
Simpson has been charged with stealing cars twice in the past two years and also had faced multiple drug-related charges. He was on probation after being convicted in one of the car theft cases, records show.
He has no lawyer listed in online court records for this case, and nobody answered the door at two addresses where public documents say he has lived.
Torres' family held a wake for him Thursday and were planning to transport his body to an uncle in Mexico for burial.
Julio Torres, Oscar's 17-year-old brother, said his family was relieved by the arrest but won't be satisfied until they know for sure who shot him.
"We just heard it today, so I don't really know how I feel about it," Julio Torres said.
Authorities would not say where Simpson was arrested; Kowalczyk said that information was part of detectives' continuing investigation. But Kowalczyk said Simpson was taken into custody without incident.
He has been charged with negligent manslaughter involving a car and other traffic counts.
"There are other crimes of violence that we have reason to believe that he is associated with," Kowalczyk said.
In a statement, Baltimore police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts said that "it was hard work, dedication, and a tremendous amount of help from the community that led to his capture."
In a previous case in August 2013, police received a signal from a LoJack anti-theft device in a stolen 2005 Chevrolet Malibu that was driving westbound on West Franklin Street. As officers attempted to pull the vehicle over, the driver "made a series of turns in an attempt to evade" police, court records show.
Police continued to track the vehicle using the department helicopter, and the driver and two others bailed out. Simpson was captured after a foot chase.
He was charged with car theft but was convicted a month later of a lesser charge of theft between $1,000 and $10,000. He received a suspended sentence of one year in jail, was placed on one year of supervised probation and ordered to pay $500 restitution.
A year earlier, in September 2012, officers ran a check on the license plates of a Jeep Cherokee being driven by Simpson and determined it had been stolen in Baltimore County. The officers boxed Simpson in and placed him under arrest, according to court records. All charges were dropped by prosecutors.
In January 2013, he was indicted on multiple drug distribution charges, which were dropped by prosecutors in July of that year. A spokesman for the Baltimore state's attorney's office could not be reached late Friday to discuss the cases.
Homicide detectives continue to investigate Simpson's potential involvement in the shooting of Oscar Torres, police said. They asked anyone with information to call 911 or Metro Crime Stoppers at 1-866-7Lockup.