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On the face of it, something went horribly wrong in the chain of events leading up to the rape and assault of a 26-year-old Canton woman Saturday. It's still not clear where the system broke down, but it's hard to look at this case and not think that this crime might have been prevented.

The suspect, 19-year-old Donald Vaughan, had been released by the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services on Sept. 25 to live in Virginia with his mother. There, he was on probation and was supposedly under supervision by Virginia authorities under a reciprocal agreement between the two states to assume responsibility for juvenile probationers living in each other's jurisdictions.

But on Nov. 28, police in the tiny town of Kilmarnock, Va., got a report of the rape of a woman in her late 60s. Three days later, a woman in her 30s was sexually assaulted in her home on the same street in town. Police in Kilmarnock quickly identified Mr. Vaughan as a suspect after an officer noticed him walking near the crime scene at 4 a.m. on the day of the last attack. They questioned him, took a DNA sample and kept him under surveillance.

Yet, inexplicably, on Dec. 16, Mr. Vaughan's probation officer in Virginia allowed him to return to Baltimore for the holidays. Did the Kilmarnock police - who knew of Mr. Vaughan's criminal record - not tell his probation officer that he was a suspect in two rapes?

Town Police Chief Michael Bedell insisted on Wednesday that his investigators told Mr. Vaughan's probation officer that the department was watching him. Yet for reasons that remain unclear, Mr. Vaughan was given permission to travel to Baltimore anyway.

Even more disturbing is the fact that apparently no one in Baltimore knew he was coming. George Beane, who supervises probation officers in the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice, says it's customary to notify officials in states to which a probationer may be traveling and to send them the paperwork so that arrangements can be made to provide adequate supervision for them on arrival.

Mr. Beane added that if there's a question whether such trips might pose a threat to public safety, officials in both states can negotiate to resolve the problem or impose additional conditions before granting a probationer permission to travel. But he couldn't say whether any such discussions took place in Mr. Vaughan's case.

Once Mr. Vaughan returned to Baltimore, responsibility for supervising him reverted to Maryland's Department of Juvenile Services while he was here. But a spokesman for DJS said Wednesday that the department never received any warning that he was headed this way; if it had, it would have taken steps to ensure he had adequate supervision. Absent notice from Virginia, she said, officials here had no way of knowing of Mr. Vaughan's presence in the state.

Clearly, there was a breakdown in communication somewhere along the line that allowed Mr. Vaughan to arrive in Baltimore unsupervised, even though he had already been convicted of several burglaries in Maryland and was a suspect in two rapes in Virginia.

Did Virginia authorities fail to give officials in Maryland timely notice that Mr. Vaughan was on his way? Or did they send along paperwork that somehow got lost or mishandled so that it never reached the Maryland officials responsible for acting on it? Authorities in both states need to conduct a thorough investigation to get to the bottom of such questions.

Both in the Virginia town and in Baltimore, law enforcement was quick to locate Mr. Vaughan once he was identified as a suspect. One can only wonder whether the pain and emotional trauma suffered by the victims of these attacks could have been prevented had police known to look for him before his alleged crimes were committed.

Readers respond

I live in a small town adjacent to Kilmarnock, Va. When it hit the news that police had a suspect, and it also came to light that this suspect had a prior criminal history, along with some time served in a correctional facility, I thought surely an arrest would be imminent. I can't comprehend why this suspect was not investigated more thoroughly and why on earth he was allowed to leave the area when he was a suspect in two such violent crimes.

There never should have been a third victim. The monster who admitted to these crimes should not have been walking free among us, and he NEVER should have been permitted interstate travel under such a cloud of suspicion. It would seem to me that, once fingerprint evidence tied him to these first two crimes, there would have been enough evidence to at least hold him in jail and go to a judge for a search warrant and DNA samples from the suspect.

I have to wonder how this spiraled out of control as it did. Who dropped the ball? It certainly bears a closer look!

Nancy Webster

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