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Crime

After teen allegedly killed Pasadena landscaper in road rage shooting in Baltimore, family struggles with senseless loss

Daniel Pitts rarely strayed from his daily routine, which revolved around the landscaping business he built more than two decades ago.

He would wake up, get dressed and climb into his pickup truck with a list of jobs to complete. In the evenings, he would do paperwork, keeping meticulous handwritten records of his business expenses, invoices and schedule.

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On April 14, Pitts had picked up an employee and was driving through Curtis Bay around lunchtime. As usual, his truck was loaded with tools and equipment.

The exact details are unclear, but Baltimore Police said a suspected road rage incident escalated quickly and left Pitts, 52, dead from a gunshot wound. The shooting occurred in the 6200 block of Pennington Avenue, a remote strip near the entrance of petroleum tank farm in Hawkins Point, just south of Curtis Bay.

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“To just shoot somebody like that over something so stupid — I mean how does that happen?” his sister Lisa Pitts Wheeler said in a recent interview. “I guess I just haven’t been able to comprehend it all.”

A teenager was arrested two weeks later. The 17-year-old was charged as an adult with first-degree murder and other counts.

Detectives interviewed witnesses who identified him from a photo lineup and described how he pulled out a handgun and fired a single round, court records show.

The case adds to an uptick in violence and growing concern among experts in Baltimore and across the country that more minor disputes are ending in deadly gunfire, often during daylight hours.

That includes road rage. Nationwide, data suggest road rage shootings have increased significantly during the pandemic, leaving 522 people killed or injured last year — compared with 293 people in 2019, according to a recent report from Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun control advocacy group.

Road rage incidents involving a gun also have become more deadly, the report says. In 2016, about 34% of such incidents resulted in injuries or death; that number rose to 62% last year. The study is based on data compiled by the Kentucky nonprofit Gun Violence Archive, which publishes national gun data from law enforcement, media reports and other sources.

So far this year, 43 people have been killed and dozens more injured in shootings that law enforcement attributed to road rage nationwide, according to the database. Researchers have recorded 23 road rage shootings since Pitts was killed last month, including two separate incidents that occurred just days apart in Durham, North Carolina.

Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison also has expressed concern about youth crime, especially leading up to summer vacation.

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“We know that addressing youthful mischief, disorder and violence is bigger than just the police department,” he said in a recent statement. “We are asking for parents, community organizations, juvenile advocates and social services agencies to get involved to prevent these types of destructive behaviors and violence in our city.”

Pitts’ sister said she recently spoke with the man riding in the passenger seat when her brother was shot. He told her that Pitts had pulled out of a gas station parking lot onto Pennington Avenue and noticed a car coming up behind him, then tried to switch lanes and inadvertently cut off the other driver.

The shooter pulled up alongside their truck and fired one round through the window — a single bullet that whizzed past the passenger and struck Pitts in the head, Wheeler said the man told her.

The passenger had to reach over and take control of the vehicle before it crashed, according to his account.

“I feel like there’s more to the story,” Wheeler said. “I need more answers, but they won’t bring my brother back.”

Baltimore police said officers responded to the shooting scene and found Pitts in his gray Ford F-150. Medics pronounced him dead shortly thereafter.

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Later that afternoon, Wheeler said, local law enforcement officers arrived at her house in Florida and delivered the news about her brother.

“I’m like no, there’s no way. Not Danny,” she said. “I was just standing there in my front yard getting this news.”

Wheeler recently spent eight days in Anne Arundel County laying her brother to rest and sorting through his belongings. She donated his clothes and turned his truck over to the state, not wanting to see whatever signs of his death were preserved inside.

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In his office, she found extensive handwritten records tracking his business expenses, including copies of invoices noting how long he had worked with certain customers — like “16-year client” or “21-year client,” Wheeler said.

“He was very detailed, very consistent, a hard worker,” she said.

Wheeler said she tried to get Pitts to come stay with her family in Florida after his roommate of 33 years died in recent months, but he didn’t want to take the time off work.

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Decades ago, Pitts worked as a pizza delivery driver while launching his landscaping business, his sister said. He graduated from Chesapeake High School in Pasadena.

Wheeler organized a celebration of his life at a restaurant near where they grew up. She said some of his old classmates showed up, along with people she had never met, and the group shared stories about Pitts.

After holding the memorial and receiving news about the recent arrest, Wheeler said, she’s now left with a profound sense of injustice she fears will never leave her. She finds herself thinking about her grandchildren, wondering what this means about the world they’re growing up in. She said she hopes her brother’s killer realizes the pain he caused.

“It does ease my mind that this person is off the streets,” she said. “I try to give people the benefit of the doubt, but I feel so lost right now. … I can’t just wake up one day and accept it.”


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