Man who fled hospital pleads guilty to robbery, gets 16-year sentence; He faces Howard Co. trial in unrelated incident

THE BALTIMORE SUN

A man whose escape through a bathroom window led Crownsville Hospital Center to revamp the state mental hospital's security procedures pleaded guilty yesterday in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court to attempted carjacking and robbery.

Judge Joseph P. Manck sentenced Shawn A. Chowanetz, 31, formerly of Severna Park, to 16 years in prison under the terms of a plea agreement. In exchange, prosecutors agreed to drop about 30 related charges.

Chowanetz was described by his attorney, assistant public defender Robert Waldman, as a mentally ill man who left school in ninth grade and whose "whole life has been a desire for drugs."

Since his arrest in November 1997, Chowanetz has been under psychiatric care in jail, and Waldman won a judicial recommendation that his client be treated as a prisoner with special needs in the state Department of Correction.

Chowanetz, who has been in and out of jail most of his adult life, apologized for his behavior, saying "I want to turn my life around." He wanted to know if Manck would shorten the sentence. The judge said he would consider doing so only after the defendant completed therapeutic and other prison programs.

Chowanetz is scheduled for trial April 5 in Howard County on robbery, car theft and three related charges in the theft of an elderly man's car Nov. 1, 1997, at Elkridge Corner Shopping Center.

The next day, an Anne Arundel County police officer spotted the car in Severna Park. Chowanetz led police on a chase north on Ritchie Highway, crashing the car on the entrance ramp to Route 100. Police arrested him there and charged him with theft and traffic violations.

A day later, District Judge Vincent Mulieri ordered a psychiatric evaluation. The psychologist who screened Chowanetz sent him to Crownsville, where he was admitted Nov. 10, 1997.

Two days later, he was taken to an unsecured medical building for X-rays. He asked to use the bathroom, kicked out a window screen and fled.

Anne Arundel police caught Chowanetz again Nov. 14, 1997, said Warren Davis, Anne Arundel County assistant state's attorney.

Chowanetz robbed a man at a Glen Burnie shopping center of $100 and used an acquaintance's Mercury Topaz to flee to Baltimore, where he left the Topaz running and stole a black 1991 Chevrolet Camaro, police said.

Soon after 3 p.m., an officer spotted Chowanetz in the Camaro, which had crashed on a traffic island near Oakwood Road and Hospital Drive, according to court records. When police ordered Chowanetz out of the car, he ran to the nearby parking lot of North Arundel Hospital, where he tried to take a car from a 65-year-old man. Police who chased him there told him to lie down, and when he reached toward his pocket, an officer shot and wounded him.

Howard County did not file a warrant for Chowanetz in the Elkridge Corner car theft until Nov. 17, 1997, five days after he escaped from Crownsville.

Since then, hospital officials have "made several changes in the security procedures," Crownsville Superintendent Ronald Hendler said yesterday.

Pub Date: 3/16/99

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