When String Bean - that's his nickname since high school - saw two masked men walk into the Susquehanna Bank in Cockeysville one morning last October, he decided to stay in his car in the parking lot a little while longer. What's the rush to cash a check, anyway? It can wait.
Ol' String made a smart decision. Those guys weren't dressed for Halloween; they were dressed for robbery, and one of them had a gun. This happened shortly after 9:30 on Thursday, Oct. 2, and when the two banditos emerged at a trot from the bank, Ol' String, mild-mannered salesman for a local printing company, decided to do something he'd never done before, something neither a Baltimore County circuit judge nor a seasoned prosecutor could remember a private citizen ever doing before.
He tailed 'em.
He watched the two robbers, both dressed in baseball caps and windbreakers with security company patches, slide into a gray Honda and pull out of the parking lot onto busy York Road. String Bean dialed 911 on his car phone and started what would turn into a running, 20-minute dialogue with a police operator.
(Note to readers: String Bean asked me not to use his full name because he served as a key witness in the eventual prosecution of these robbers and still fears retribution for his role in the case. He did not call me to brag of his adventure. Others impressed by what he did tipped me off. And so, in this case, I defer to the modest String Bean's wish to remain anonymous. He has turned down other media interviews.)
Bean-o followed the Honda down a side street, Gibbons Boulevard, keeping a safe distance, watching everything, and describing all of it to 911. What he saw was a little weird - the two robbers jumped out of the Honda and ran onto a lawn. They stashed something in some bushes - a revolver, it turned out, and a bag of cash tainted from a red-dye packet - and took off some clothes. Then, they split up. One got into a gray Maxima, driven by a woman; the other drove off in a white Infiniti.
"They didn't seem to be in a hurry," Beaner told me. (If I can't identify this guy, then I'm going to indulge in wacky variations of his nickname.) "They were easy to follow. I followed them down Greenside, past the Cockeysville library. They made a right onto Padonia Road, and kind of stayed together, one behind the other, in the left lane. I stayed in the middle or to the right, to give myself an escape route, if I needed it. At one point, I was right alongside one of them, and I'm talking on the cell phone the whole time, wondering when the police are going to come. The whole thing seemed comical, and a little scary."
Though the 911 operator told him he'd fulfilled his good citizenship obligations and did not have to maintain pursuit, String Along followed the bad guys onto a ramp for Interstate 83, then south on the highway until he hit traffic congestion at - where else? - the Beltway/I-83 split. By then, Ol' Bean had given the 911 operator enough information that police were able to stop one of the cars - the gray Maxima with the man and woman inside - on the Jones Falls Expressway near Ruxton Road.
Police later arrested the second suspected robber, who had driven off in the white Infiniti.
All three defendants went on trial last week, before Judge Lawrence R. Daniels, in Baltimore County Circuit Court. The couple arrested out of the Maxima - Gail Evans and Ricky Dingle - were convicted Friday. (The case of the third robbery suspect was dismissed, with Judge Daniels citing a lack of evidence.) Dingle, with two earlier bank robbery convictions, faces a 25-year sentence without parole.
Both Daniels and Mickey Norman, the assistant state's attorney in the case, had high praise for S. Bean's discreet assistance to police. The judge called it "great police work by a private citizen." Norman said he'd never seen anything like it.
Next time you see someone on a car phone, don't sneer, don't yell, "Hang up and drive!" There may be some serious police work going on.
Mistakes with purpose
From the Parents Without Partners Carroll County Companion newsletter: "If you find mistakes in this publication, please consider they are there for a purpose. We publish something for everyone."
On a trail of 'whoops'
In the "whoops" category of intragovernmental relations, consider Baltimore County Circuit Court Administrator Peter J. Lally. This spring, he found himself before a bemused Baltimore County Council, being quoted - from a court reporter's transcript! - as he disparaged the council's ability to understand budgetary matters.
Months ago, the Ruppersberger administration sought to replace human court reporters with digital sound recording systems. The circuit judges wanted to nix the idea. A compromise was worked out: The new taping system would be installed in three new courtrooms on the fourth floor of the Towson courthouse. No current court reporters would lose their jobs; as they retired, electronics would replace them.
It was Lally's job to take that plan to the council. But when he did, he never mentioned that county judges supported humans over electronics, or that the new recording system might not be fully used for several years - and could be obsolete by then - or that all of this was discussed, without the council's knowledge, at an April meeting with 16 court reporters, Lally and his boss, Chief Judge Edward A. DeWaters Jr.
All of which annoyed the council, and some of the court reporters.
So, after the council voted to spend $96,000 for the recording system, court reporters circulated transcripts of the April meeting, which included Lally's glib comment that the County Council "doesn't have any understanding of the budget." Whoops!
Councilman Kevin B. Kamenetz suggested that Lally had shown "lack of respect to this body."
Lally's response? "I didn't have a chance to review that [transcript]. I don't know if it's true yet." And that, of course, just after his boss, DeWaters, had told the council that "you get a better product with a court reporter [than with a electronic recording]." Whoops again!
! Pub date: 6/10/98