The funeral service was nearly over.
In a church filled to overflowing, the mayor had delivered a tearful eulogy. Hundreds of voices had risen in song. And one by one, six police officers had stepped to the podium to describe their colleague's warmth and humor.
A woman seated in a wheelchair at the end of a row of pews took a deep breath.
It was time.
All eyes followed her as she was wheeled down the red-carpeted aisle to the front of the church. She wore her best dress uniform and crisp white gloves. A black band crossed her silver badge.
Her eyes, ringed with dark bruises, focused on the casket.
Inside lay Baltimore Police Officer Harold Carey, her friend and fellow officer.
She had encouraged him to join the brotherhood six years earlier, and their lives had intersected ever since: at breakfast after morning roll-call, at happy hour when their shift ended. And, finally, at that terrible moment when their police vehicles collided they both rushed to assist an officer in trouble.
Since that Friday five days ago, she had thought about this moment.
There was something she had to do before she said goodbye.
Friday, Oct. 30, began with a ritual the 7-to-3 shift enjoyed on slow mornings: breakfast together after 6:30 a.m. roll call. By the time Harold Carey arrived at the New Wyman Park deli, a dozen uniformed officers from Central District had filled three booths against the back wall.
Carey, 6-foot-1 and more than 300 pounds, ordered his usual meal - a stack of pancakes and a jumbo ice tea. "I think I'm going to take my car back," he announced in his deep, gravelly baritone. He was talking about his new black Mustang Cobra convertible.
Carey adored cars; just last Sunday, he had taken another officer out for a three-hour drive in the Mustang, which had replaced a Volkswagen GTI, which had replaced a Corvette. Every few months, he grew bored and traded in one car for another.
"You've gotta stop spending your money on fast cars and fast women," cracked one officer.
"Hey, at least I like women," Carey shot back.
One booth away, Officer Lavon'De Alston burst out laughing; she knew both men were married. L.A., as she was called, had a personality as warm as the city of the same initials. It was one reason she and Carey got along well; he so enjoyed making people laugh that he occasionally performed stand-up at the Comedy Factory in downtown Baltimore.
As Carey got up to pay, Officer Demetrius Jackson spoke up: "Hey, Harold, ride with me today."
Jackson, an athletic man who weighed half as much as Carey, was Harold's former partner. Others laughed at the sight of them together - "Laurel and Hardy," they called them. The two were so close that Carey had been a groomsman at Jackson's wedding.
Carey considered Jackson's suggestion. As officer-in-charge for the day, he had the option of pairing up with anyone he chose. Or he could stay off the streets and head back to the station. But Carey loved being part of the action. He knew the officer driving the prisoner van, Keith Owens, would be kept busy.
"I'm going to ride with Keith today so I can lock some people up," Carey told Jackson.
Owens was glad to hear it. Carey was the partner to have during a difficult arrest. He felt no fear - and had the strength of two. Officers joked about his perpetually rumpled uniform but knew why he never ironed it: Carey often ended up on the ground, tussling with suspects who resisted arrest.
But there was another reason Owens wanted Carey at his side. The two shared a passion for getting drug dealers off the streets of Baltimore, where both had grown up. For Owens, the mission was deeply personal. His younger brother had been shot to death in a dispute over drugs.
Owens confided in Carey about the loss, and Carey responded with a promise: "I'm going to find the person who killed your brother." Nearly every time they saw each other, Carey repeated his vow.
Caring about one another was contagious among the squadron of men and women who patrolled some of the city's roughest streets. They played pool together after their shifts and gathered to watch Monday Night Football. They were all young - Carey was 28; Jackson, 26; Alston and Owens, 30. In some ways, they had grown up together on the force. Their brotherhood was fused by a shared understanding of the danger they faced, and a rock-solid faith that when one needed them, the others would be there.
At 8:07 a.m., as the officers waited by the cash register, their radios crackled to life. They heard the muffled sounds of a struggle, then the voice of a colleague:
"Baker 41, I need a 10-15 at 1900 Charles!"
Officer Ty Crane was issuing an urgent summons for a prisoner van.
Owens, deep in conversation, didn't hear the call. Carey did.
"Ty's asking for help!"
A 10-15 supplies scant information; officers who hear it know only that an arrest is not proceeding smoothly, and that a van is needed - fast. Only one call stirs a more powerful response: a Signal 13, "officer needs assistance."
Alston dropped her check and a $10 bill on the cash register and ran out the door without waiting for change. Though 10-15 calls occur daily, this one troubled Alston. Ty Crane was a big, muscular guy. If he needed help, something must be really wrong.
Owens and Carey hurried toward the prisoner van, parked near the corner of Howard and 25th streets. Owens slid into the driver's seat and fit the key into the ignition. But Carey was still standing at the passenger's door, jiggling the handle. The lock was broken. Owens raced around the van and used the key to open the door.
Finally, the two men sped down 25th Street and turned south onto Maryland Avenue.
A call for help
Officer Ty Crane lay gasping on the floor of an Exxon station, a struggling suspect pinned beneath him.
Moments earlier, Crane had been at his post in the 1900 block of North Charles Street when he recognized a man he knew to be a troublemaker; Crane had arrested him before.
Move along, Crane told him.
The man answered with an obscenity, blew cigarette smoke into Crane's face and bumped the officer's shoulder as he passed by.
Crane followed the man into the nearby gas station, and when he refused to leave, Crane told him he was under arrest. The man started swinging.
The officer wrestled him to the ground and snapped handcuffs around one wrist, but the man kept fighting. Crane was more powerfully built, but he couldn't get the other wrist into the handcuffs. The man's strength seemed superhuman.
Crane grabbed his radio.
"Baker 41, I need a 10-15 at 1900 Charles!"
As he lay on the floor struggling with the suspect, he knew help would be on the way soon.
He was right: As Carey and Owens sped down Maryland Avenue, Lavon'De Alston, blocks away and alone in a police cruiser, flipped on the siren and stepped on the gas.
'Get me out of here'
Maurice Bruton, a 36-year-old security guard for Charles Village Benefits District, was pedaling his 10-speed on his daily rounds when the police van sped past on Maryland Avenue. He pedaled faster; if trouble was unfolding nearby, he could back up the officers.
Bruton was about a block behind the van as it approached the intersection of Maryland and West 20th Street. Suddenly, to his right, he saw Alston's police cruiser, lights flashing, siren blaring. The cruiser and police van were closing in fast on the same intersection. Bruton sucked in his breath: No!
The collision seemed to occur in slow motion. The van, hit on the passenger's side by the cruiser, rolled over two, three, four times. It slammed into a building before coming to rest on its side atop a parked car.
Bruton pedaled furiously. He reached for the van's door handle on the passenger side, but it was jammed shut. He peered in the window. Two officers were covered in blood, their bodies twisted, their legs trapped under the crumpled dashboard.
Bruton looked down to see an ever-widening puddle forming underneath the van: Gasoline.
"Don't anyone light a cigarette!" he screamed at the gathering onlookers.
A black-belt in karate, Bruton smashed his fist through the windshield. Suddenly, another officer appeared beside him. It was Aaron Faulkner, who had witnessed the accident from his cruiser as he sped to the scene.
Together, the men yanked out the glass, cutting their hands as they formed a hole big enough to reach through.
Faulkner's eyes met those of Keith Owens, trapped in the driver's seat.
"Get me out of here," Owens begged. "Don't let me die."
'It'll be OK'
Demetrius Jackson was handing a woman a ticket for running a red light when he heard the screams over his police radio:
Now the call was a Signal 13.
As Jackson approached the intersection of North and Maryland avenues, traffic blocked his path. He leapt from his car and ran.
Lavon'De Alston slumped behind the steering wheel of the cruiser. Her head bloodied, she faded in and out of consciousness. Jackson bent down and, not wanting to move her, gently stroked her arm. "It'll be OK," he said over and over. "It'll be OK."
By now, a dozen officers swarmed the van, futilely yanking on the doors. Carey was in the passenger's seat, motionless. Blood trickled from his ear.
Jackson peered through the shattered windshield. He couldn't see Carey's face; his head was twisted unnaturally to the side. Reaching through the broken windshield, Jackson gripped Carey's hand. He had always marveled at the power in his old partner's hands, thick as T-bones. Not long into their friendship, he nicknamed Carey "Steak."
They had worked together in perfect sync: Carey was the strong one; Jackson, the fast one. Jackson chased suspects on foot while Carey, the cutoff man, drove ahead. Carey couldn't run far, but he didn't need to: Some suspects took one look at his massive frame and threw their hands up, surrendering.
One time a few months earlier, though, their timing had gone awry. Sprinting after a suspected drug dealer who had been spotted with a gun, Jackson caught the man quickly - too quickly. Carey was still speeding toward the cut-off point. "Where's the gun?" Jackson yelled as he grappled with the suspect on the ground. The man reached for his pocket.
In an instant, Carey appeared, yanked the man's arm away and pinned it behind his back. Jackson climbed to his feet. In the suspect's pocket was a loaded gun.
Now, crouched beside the friend he had wanted to ride with that day, Jackson felt his panic rise. This couldn't be happening, not his old partner, the man everyone wanted at their backs. He squeezed Carey's limp hand.
"Harold, talk to me!" Jackson yelled. "Come on, Harold, wake up!"
As firefighters arrived with power saws to cut off the van's roof, bystanders prayed aloud for the trapped policemen. Officers clustered in groups, hugging each other. Standing alone by his cruiser, sobbing, was Ty Crane.
Having heard the Signal 13, Crane had managed to wrestle his suspect into handcuffs, throw him into his cruiser and speed to the scene.
Over and over, the officer who had issued the first call for help berated himself: "It's all my fault."
Reading the faces
In her home on Tioga Parkway, Carolyn Carey was about to set the burglar alarm and leave for work when a police car pulled up to the curb. She recognized one of the officers: Demetrius Jackson, a close friend of her stepson, Harold.
Carolyn Carey had known Harold since he was 13, and she loved him as her own. Through the years, she had come to anticipate the heavy pounding on the front door - so loud it threatened to bring down the house - that signaled his arrival. One day a few years earlier, though, Harold had been unnaturally quiet.
She had seen the news on television, so she knew what he had come to tell her. He had been at Reisterstown Road Plaza on his day off with his wife-to-be, Karen, when they spotted a man pointing a gun at shoppers. When the suspect didn't respond to Harold's command to drop the weapon, Harold shot him. The man fell to the floor, then reached for his gun again. Harold kept shooting until the man stopped moving.
As they sat together talking in the living room that day, Carolyn Carey had worried about her stepson. Others worried about him, too. In the ensuing weeks, his colleagues called Harold every day to offer support. Later, he was awarded the department's Bronze Star.
Now Carolyn Carey stood frozen by the front door, wearing her coat and clutching her book bag. She watched the two officers slowly come up the sidewalk.
As they drew closer, she saw their faces, and she knew.
What was happening?
Harold Carey's father took the Fayette Street exit off I-83 and steered his Buick toward the Maryland Shock Trauma Center. Carey, a truck driver, had been on a job in Pennsylvania when his wife got the message to him: There had been an accident and he was needed at the hospital.
Carey, also named Harold, didn't panic; he assumed it was his son who had been injured. But Harold was so strong he seemed indestructible. Carey had stopped by the library to select a book before heading back to Baltimore. If Harold stayed in the hospital for a day or two, his father would remain by his bedside. It would be a good idea to have something to read while Harold slept.
Parking the car a few blocks from the hospital, he strolled toward the emergency room enjoying the warmth of the day. Inside Shock Trauma, scores of police officers lined the hallways, looking grim and shaken. What was happening? Why was the elderly woman from his church here?
Carey pulled aside an officer and read his name tag: A. Faulkner.
"My name is Harold Carey," he said. "Tell me, how is Harold?"
Faulkner didn't hesitate; Harold's father deserved that much. He looked him in the eye and answered. "Harold is dead, sir."
Carey dropped onto a chair and put his head in his hands.
Someone tried to coax him into a private room, but he had to get outside, where he could breathe. He left the hospital and walked down Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Finally, when he was far enough away, he sat down on a building's front stoop.
He stared at the cars driving by and thought about the last time he had seen his son, just four days earlier. Carey was leaving for his Pennsylvania run when police lights flashed in his rear-view mirror. He pulled over, wondering what he had done wrong.
It was only Harold, wanting to say goodbye.
Demetrius Jackson stood in a cluster of colleagues in the hallway outside the emergency room. As news of the accident spread, officers from other shifts had begun appearing at the station, volunteering to step in. Maj. Steven McMahon, the district's commander, had instructed his lieutenants to find any additional replacements needed for the entire 7-to-3 shift. Later, many of the officers would be questioned by accident investigators. But for now, they could go to the hospital.
Inside the emergency room were Keith Owens and Lavon'De Alston, the two drivers. Owens had two broken vertebrae, and Alston's cut, bruised face was swollen to double its normal size. Both initially had been listed in serious condition, and doctors had shielded them from the news of Carey's death. But Alston's condition had improved rapidly, and she was scheduled to be released. They could delay telling her no longer.
Jackson and the others watched McMahon enter the room to speak to Alston privately.
How could she bear hearing about Harold? Jackson wondered.
The two were always joking during roll call. Every morning, Harold would rummage through Alston's purse, searching for her hand lotion. He'd make a production out of rubbing it on his hands and arms, then throw the bottle across the room for Alston to catch.
"You big goof," Alston would chastise him. But she refilled the bottle for him every week.
What would happen to her now? Jackson wondered.
Breaking the news
Lavon'De Alston could hear someone calling her: L.A., can you hear me?
She tried to open her eyes, but she couldn't. They felt sealed. Dried blood caked her eyelashes. She blinked, forcefully, and pulled them open.
Bright overhead lights told her she was in the hospital.
I hope I didn't get shot, she thought, as she started to sink back into sleep.
McMahon's voice pulled her up again: L.A., can you hear me?
He was standing by her bed, next to her mother. Alston squinted: Was that Police Commissioner Thomas Frazier, too? Oh, God, she must be hurt badly.
McMahon was speaking, but his words didn't make any sense. Why was he talking about Harold? What did he mean, Harold didn't make it?
It hurt to talk, but she forced the words out: You mean Harold died?
Yes, McMahon said.
L.A., you were involved in a car accident.
It couldn't be true; she couldn't remember anything about an accident. How could Harold be gone? No. No.
As she felt tears well up, she struggled to ask another question: Was it my fault?
Pausing to help
It was growing dark when Harold Carey and his wife left the hospital and prepared to drive home. So many memories waited there:
At the kitchen table, where he and his adult son spent hours talking over pots of coffee. In the upstairs bedroom, where Harold, as a teen-ager, pored over car magazines. In the alley behind the house, where a young Harold waited, arms outstretched, for the football his father threw.
As they got into the car, a voice broke their silence: Mister, I'm hungry.
A woman was standing on the sidewalk a few feet away.
I've got children, and we need something to eat.
Carey tore his thoughts from his son and turned to look at her. She was young, maybe 30, but her eyes were tired.
You have children? Carey asked slowly.
Yes, the woman answered, so could you buy me a sandwich at the deli up the street?
You have children, Carey repeated. That won't be enough.
He directed her to get into the car.
He drove until he found a grocery store a few blocks away, then took the woman inside. They walked through the aisles, filling a shopping basket with bread and milk, lunch meat and orange juice.
When he dropped her off at Poppleton Street, she turned back to look at the Careys.
God bless you, she said, clutching the grocery bags.
Then, Harold Carey drove home.
The mind's recorder
In the quiet of his private hospital room, Keith Owens reviewed the events of the day, the scenes running through his mind like a movie reel.
He saw himself at the deli, putting away a plate of ham and home fries, as Carey sat across from him.
He remembered Carey saying, "Ty is asking for help," and then hurrying for the van.
The key in the ignition.
The broken lock.
Owens couldn't stop dwelling on those critical seconds. If only, he thought ... if only.
He saw himself behind the wheel, driving the van down 25th Street with Carey at his side. He remembered turning right onto Maryland Avenue and then: nothing. The accident was a black hole in his memory.
But as the night wore on, as the hallways outside his room grew still, one more memory surfaced.
Owens felt the arms of firefighters pulling him from the mangled van. As they lifted him up, he reached back. He was trying to
grab Carey's jacket. Trying to pull his friend to safety.
'Take care of families'
In the days after the accident, officers appeared at Harold's home to rake and mow the sprawling yard for his widow, Karen. Envelopes thick with money donated by scores of officers were delivered to her and to Harold's parents.
At Keith Owens' home, officers pounded nails into wooden planks to build a railing for the steps. Owens, with a back injury, was coming home.
On Saturday afternoon at Shock Trauma, Owens' wife, Tiffany, worried aloud over how she would get her husband to his physical therapy appoinments. Demetrius Jackson reassured her: Every afternoon at 4 p.m., for as long as needed, an officer would drive Owens to the hospital.
Major McMahon had released Carey's closest friends from their regular duties. "Take care of the families of Harold, Lavon'De and Keith," he instructed. "Be there for whatever they need." McMahon knew it would help the grieving officers as much as the families.
Outside Carey's childhood home, a police cruiser stood vigil. Inside, in Harold's old bedroom, Carolyn Carey searched through bureau drawers, looking for pictures of him with his father. One drawer held a slim silver box.
Inside, she found a glass plaque engraved with a poem and a card signed by dozens of people.
As she studied the signatures, she realized the card was from members of the police force. Harold had received it years earlier, when his mother died. He had been a rookie then, barely out of the academy. But already the brotherhood had encircled him.
The toughest times
The nights were the hardest.
Lavon'De Alston couldn't go home to her apartment yet. She couldn't be alone. So she stayed with her mother, and every night, she climbed into her mother's big bed, like a child frightened by a nightmare.
She lay awake, torturing herself with a question: Could she have done anything to prevent the accident? The other officers told her not to think that way - "Thank God we didn't lose all three of you," Officer Lennie Mungo had said when he telephoned. But she could not escape the question.
Memories of Harold haunted her. Sometimes, she thought about the first time they met, seven years earlier. She was patrolling her beat and had stopped in the Roy Rogers on the corner of Howard and 20th streets to buy a soda. Carey was there, too; his roommate was the manager. He saw Alston's uniform and asked her about the job: How hard was it to pass the physical test to get into the police academy? Did she think he could make it?
Go for it, she told him. Good luck.
Afterward, every time she saw him, he updated her: He had gotten the application, passed the physical test, entered the training academy.
Whatever you do, she teased him, just don't come to Central. But she knew it was unlikely they would end up working together - there were too many districts and too many shifts.
Then one day, she walked into roll call, and there he was. They both burst out laughing.
Harold had become a big brother to her, a brother who called her "Shorty" and gobbled the rest of her pancakes when she couldn't finish them. Whenever he was around, she felt safe.
Sometimes she wondered if she would ever be able to go back to work. How could she drive a police cruiser again?
Those nights were the darkest times. But the days were easier, because then she was never alone.
Officers constantly telephoned, and didn't wait for her to invite them over. They crowded into the kitchen, sampling from pots and pans while Alston's mother cooked. They cracked jokes and filled the house with laughter. They sat next to Alston watching television when she didn't want to talk. They listened when she did.
Back to work
On Monday, the first day back at work after the accident, there was an empty seat at morning roll call. The room seemed too big, somehow, without his booming laugh.
Would they ever stop expecting to see Harold, stumbling in to work at the last second wearing a wrinkled uniform and white socks?
Officer Lennie Mungo opened his desk drawer and stared at a scrap of paper with Carey's new telephone number scrawled on it.
Had it only been last Sunday that Carey had pounded on Mungo's front door, insisting they take a ride together in the new Mustang convertible? Despite the cold, Carey kept the top down. And the whole time, Mungo remembered, Harold sang Christmas carols - loudly and off-key. They had driven for three hours, all the way to Pennsylvania and back.
He thought about how Harold had looked, head thrown back in the icy wind, singing at the top of his lungs: "Hark, the HAROLD angels sing!"
The angels were singing again; Mungo was certain of it.
Did they blame him?
On the morning of the funeral, Wednesday, Nov. 4, Ty Crane slowly made his way toward the Central Church of Christ. He was early, but hundreds of police cars with license plates from New York to South Carolina already crowded the streets and nearby parking lots. Officers wore black bands across their badges. The flag at the church, like flags across the state, flew at half-staff.
For five days, Crane had incessantly gone over his role in the accident. He had acted instinctively when he issued the 10-15 call, guided by training and his sense of danger. Yet he couldn't help wondering: What if he had done something differently?
As Crane neared the church, he could see other officers from his squad. He knew Harold Carey's wife and parents would also be there. What would their eyes tell him? Did they blame him?
Waiting on the front steps were two of Carey's closest friends, Demetrius Jackson and Detective Gregory Eames. When they spotted Crane, they walked quickly toward him. Moving to each side of Crane, the two officers opened their arms.
Crane slid his hands around their broad backs as he bowed his head, unable to speak.
"We love you," Eames whispered as the three men held each other. "It's not your fault."
A smile, at last
Officer Lennie Mungo saw her as he sat down in the front row of pews. He didn't recognize her at first.
It wasn't her swollen face, patchwork of dark bruises, or wheelchair that threw him off. No, what fooled Mungo was the smile erased from her face, replaced by a mask of grief.
He had to see her smile again.
He leaned over and wrapped Lavon'De Alston in his arms. He held her tight, refusing to let go even when she finally spoke.
L "Was the casket heavy?" she whispered. "It looked so heavy."
Mungo drew back slightly and looked into her stricken eyes. "Well, look who was in it," he whispered. "You know he must've eaten pancakes this morning just to make it heavier for us."
At last, he felt her body softly shake with a tiny giggle, a sound no one on the police force had heard in five days.
As Mungo finally released his grip, he looked again into Alston's eyes and saw that for a brief moment at least, her smile had returned. Healing, he knew, would take a lifetime.
The funeral was nearly over when Lavon'De Alston was wheeled down the center aisle toward the casket.
Soon a 400-car procession would wind its way to the cemetery, past mourners holding signs that said "We love you, Officer Carey," past the bridge where firefighters stood with their hands over their hearts, past a small boy on the side of the road with a toy police badge pinned to his shirt. Soon the military bugler would play "Taps," and Harold Jerome Carey's coffin would disappear into the earth.
Soon. But not before Alston said goodbye.
When she reached the casket, she gripped the armrests of the wheelchair and struggled to her feet.
You can stay seated, someone whispered.
I have to stand.
She looked into the coffin. Harold's uniform was fresh and crisply ironed. So unlike Harold.
God, would she miss this giant of a man.
She stared at him for a long moment as tears rolled down her cheeks.
L Then, she raised her right hand to her forehead and saluted.
As she stood there sobbing, she felt a hand on her shoulder. Then another, and another.
One by one, police officers were coming forward from the pews, forming a circle around her.
Pub date 12/20/98