What began as a search for two men who allegedly broke into a Churchville Dunkin' Donuts and a tobacco shop next door put part of Harford County on edge for more than 12 hours March 18 as the manhunt followed.
Four weeks ago today (Friday), schools were locked down, residents and businesses were warned by robocall, electronic signs along Route 22 warned motorists of the manhunt. The Sheriff's Office mobile crime lab was stationed at the Dunkin' Donuts.
The search for the two men, who earlier that night had allegedly broken into a Dunkin' Donuts and a Subway eatery in Laurel, shifted into Harford County as Howard County Police followed them to Churchville, where they had to watch, because of communication troubles and questions about who had jurisdiction, as the pair allegedly committed two more burglaries and got away, according to the Harford County Sheriff's Office.
One of the suspects – Harold E. Carter Jr. - was captured about five hours after the Churchville break-ins not far away. The other suspect – Blaze L. Hollingsworth, 24, of Camden, N.J. - is still on the loose.
Police believe the men are part of the same organized crime group responsible for three break-ins at Dunkin' Donuts in the county in January, according to Cristie Kahler, spokesperson for the sheriff's office.
"As part of the investigation of the incidents in January, we became aware of similar incidents occurring in several other jurisdictions, spanning multiple states," Kahler said.
In one of the other burglaries, she said, the suspects eluded capture "by a mere 40 seconds."
Events quickly unfolded
In the March 18 incident, the Harford County Sheriff's Office was unaware, even though Howard County Police detectives had the suspects under surveillance, that the pair was about to break into the two businesses in Churchville.
Howard detectives followed Carter and Hollingsworth and notified the Harford Sheriff's Office of their presence when the pair entered Harford County, according to Howard County spokesperson Sherry Llewellyn.
"The two agencies were collaborating, but the suspects fled before they could be arrested," Llewellyn said.
Kahler, however, said Howard County notified the sheriff's office at 3:58 a.m., just six minutes before the break-in, that they had set up surveillance near the Dunkin' Donuts and that two possible suspects were in the area.
A nearby Sheriff's Office sergeant on duty tried to coordinate with the Howard County officers, but was unable to reach them. He was on his way to the scene when "events quickly unfolded," and at 4:04 a.m., the two suspects had entered Dunkin' Donuts and the cigar shop, Kahler said.
One option the Howard County detectives had, according to Joseph I. Cassilly, the Harford County State's Attorney, was to make a citizen's arrest.
Police officers "have the same ability as any citizen" to make a citizen's arrest, if a felony is being committed in their presence, Cassilly said. But he cautioned there are many circumstances that could make an officer reluctant to make a citizen's arrest, particularly if they could put themselves or other officers in harm's way.
Kahler added that to safely apprehend the suspects, it was imperative to have back-up.
Cassilly said he couldn't comment on the specific situation involving the Howard County officers, noting there are a myriad of statutes covering police jurisdiction in Maryland.
"I'm not familiar with all the statutes, but the law probably does say they [the Howard officers] can't act" without receiving clearance from the Harford Sheriff's Office, Cassilly said.
The search, lockdowns
While searching the area, police found a burgundy Mercury Marquis with a New Jersey license plate, unoccupied with the driver's side door partially open, in the first block of Meadow Spring Drive in Bel Air, about a half mile from the burglaries. The car was registered to a woman who New Jersey State Police said is "a known associate" of Carter's, according to court records.
Police were monitoring Carter's and Hollingsworth's phones, and said both were still in the area.
Around 9 a.m., Carter was found in a vehicle in the 800 block of Schucks Road in Bel Air, less than 1.5 miles from the burglaries. The vehicle was being driven by Crystal Hughes, 27, of Camden, and was occupied by Asia Foreman, 24, of Clementon, N.J., according to charging documents. The vehicle is registered to Hughes' mother. Hughes and Foreman are also charged in the break-in.
Police continued, unsuccessfully, to look for Hollingsworth throughout the day, using police tracking dogs and phone tracking.
Chief Deputy Col. Steven Bodway called off the search shortly after 4 p.m. "when all leads in the search for Hollingsworth in Harford County had run their course," Kahler said.
In the early hours of the manhunt, students at Harford schools and Harford Community College were traveling to school.
The Sheriff's Office command post notified Bob Benedetto, coordinator of safety and security for Harford County Public Schools, of the search between 9:15 and 9:20 a.m., more than five hours after the search began, according to Jillian Lader, spokesperson for the school system.
Elementary schools in the area start at 9 a.m.
"When we were notified of the incident, the Sheriff's Office recommended to HCPS that certain schools be placed into modified lockdown. This was communicated to Mr. Benedetto, who immediately communicated with the schools involved and the appropriate leadership personnel at central office," Lader said in an email.
Six nearby schools were put on lockdown, which was lifted at 3:15 p.m., in time for afternoon dismissal.
According to Kahler, the Sheriff's Office notified the school system of the search shortly after Carter, who was with two women, was arrested nearby.
"When the three suspects were located in a car, just a short distance from the scene, our suspicions were confirmed that one suspect remained in the area. Based on information gathered after the arrest, at approximately 9 a.m., the HCPS were consulted and briefed," Kahler said. Notification was made to HCC Chief of Security Christopher Swain, a former Sheriff's Office deputy, by the Criminal Investigations Division at approximately 9:30 a.m., Kahler said.
The school system was notified "at the time commanders felt most appropriate," Kahler said. "Upon a full review of the incident, an earlier briefing would have been beneficial to the school making appropriate decisions. But … these incidents are fluid with new information being discovered, evaluated, and disseminated on a near constant basis. Decisions are made to the best of our ability, with the information available at the time."
While the Sheriff's Office coordinated with the school system to "provide pertinent information to enable them to make an informed decision on public school security issues," Kahler said, the sheriff's office did not notify Oak Grove School, at the corner across Thomas Run Road from Harford Community College.
"Private schools, day cares, preschools, businesses and residents, etc. were notified via HCSO robocall that an active search was underway. They were encouraged to follow the HCSO social media sites for any developments," she said.