Joyce King may well have saved Sarah Kreager's life.
On Dec. 4, Kreager and her boyfriend, Troy Ennis, boarded the No. 27 Maryland Transit Administration bus heading toward downtown Baltimore. What happened after they boarded is in dispute. Kreager claims that when she sat down, some girls from Robert Poole Middle School told her to either move or be moved. Kreager said the girls, along with some boys from the school, attacked her and Ennis, leaving Kreager bleeding from head wounds, her left eye swollen shut and the socket broken in two places.
Six boys and three girls were eventually charged in the assault. Cases against three of the boys have been put on hold. One of the girls entered a guilty plea. An adjudicatory hearing that began Jan. 31 continued yesterday in Judge David Young's courtroom at the Juvenile Justice Center for the three boys and two girls still charged.
The first few weeks of the hearing, defense attorneys for the students made several motions to have evidence -- taped statements the teens made to Maryland Transit Administration detectives and identifications from photo arrays -- suppressed. Those statements were played in court. They diverged on minor points, but all claimed that Ennis told Kreager to "spit on those niggers" and that a fight started after Kreager did precisely that.
Several students said Kreager already had a black eye when she and Ennis got on the bus, and that she appeared to be angry with him. Defense attorneys for the five defendants -- called "respondents" in juvenile court -- scooped up those allegations like a fumbled football and ran with them. The focus of their defense is that Kreager sustained her eye injury before she was beaten by students, that the beating wasn't that severe and that Kreager and Ennis are, at best, unreliable witnesses.
Kreager testified Monday and Tuesday of this week. Ennis testified Thursday. King, the woman who witnessed the attack from her dining room window and dashed from her home screaming at the students to stop beating Kreager, testified yesterday.
King's house is at the corner of Chestnut Avenue and 33rd Street. The afternoon of Dec. 4, she said, she was in her dining room, weakened from bronchitis and about to take some medication, when she heard a loud noise outside.
"The bus had slammed into the curb," King testified. The No. 27 bus stops in front of her house, where she has lived with her husband for 10 years.
"I saw the back door of the bus flying open," King continued. "A girl come flying out. Another girl came after her. Then some more students."
King estimated that about 15 to 20 students poured out of the back door of the bus, kicking and punching the "girl" who had come flying out. But it was no "girl." It was Kreager. King said she thought Kreager was a male student at Poole. Assistant state's attorney Dawn Jones asked King why she thought Kreager was a boy.
"The brutality of it," King answered. "I associate that kind of behavior with boys. I never thought it would be girls. I guess I'm kind of old school."
We could use more of King's old school values these days. The era when terms like "lady" and "lady-like behavior" meant something are a thing of the past. I've had folks who work in Baltimore schools tell me -- off the record, of course -- that the most vicious fights these days involve girls, not boys.
King watched in horror as Kreager was punched and kicked into the curb. She shouted at the students to stop, telling them that they might end up killing her. When her daughter came out to see what was happening, King ordered her to go back in the house and call 911. Only when her daughter reappeared and yelled, "The police are on their way!" did the attack stop.
As Kreager lay beaten and bleeding in the street, King ran to her, held Kreager's head close to her body and helped her up, she said.
"My main objective was to get her away, to get her into my house," King testified.
Before King could get Kreager into her house, Ennis came running up. Kreager identified Ennis as her husband. (Kreager and Ennis called each other "wife" and "husband" several times during their testimony, although they aren't legally married.) King then said she went up to the bus driver and asked him, "What happened on there?"
That answer will come Monday, when the bus driver is scheduled to testify. But for the first time since Dec. 4, Baltimoreans have now heard from someone who had no dog in the fight, either the literal or figurative one.
And that person, Joyce King, might be the only genuine hero in this sorry tale.