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'You hit that man on purpose': Baltimore tenant accused of running over landlord amid rental dispute

Christopher Donnie Smith is jailed on attempted murder, assault and other charges after he allegedly ran over his landlord outside the courthouse Friday.
Christopher Donnie Smith is jailed on attempted murder, assault and other charges after he allegedly ran over his landlord outside the courthouse Friday. (Baltimore Police / Handout)

When Marlena Smith called her landlord into court, the Baltimore woman wrote that she hadn’t paid her rent because of leaks in the ceiling.

Such matters are resolved each day in the city’s rent court, but Smith’s case spilled outside with violence. Police say her husband stomped on the gas pedal and ran over their landlord outside the courthouse Friday.

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Christopher Donnie Smith Jr. is jailed on attempted murder, assault and other charges. Paul Sauerburger is hospitalized in serious condition. He suffered a severe head injury, police wrote in a report, also broken arms and legs.

“It’s been very hard on the family,” his mother, Dona Sauerburger, said crying Tuesday. “We ask for everyone’s prayers.”

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A 50-year-old man has been charged with attempted murder after police say he intentionally hit a pedestrian with his minivan near Baltimore’s City Hall Friday. 

She declined to discuss the incident further.

Christopher Smith, 50, remains held without bail. Online court records did not list his attorney, and his wife did not return messages. Court records offered few clues as to what provoked the alleged attack.

Hundreds of Baltimore tenants turn to rent escrow court for help resolving disputes each year, and the Smiths were among them. They rented a home for $1,050 a month on Pimlico Road in Central Park Heights. Four weeks ago, Marlena Smith wrote the court and asked officials to hold her rent until the landlord resolved a leak and black mold growing in the ceiling. She had not paid since November, she wrote.

Sauerburger, 45, managed the rental property. His wife declined to comment Monday.

During the hearing Friday afternoon, Christopher Smith and Sauerburger began arguing inside the courtroom. Police wrote in their report that the bailiff ordered Smith to leave for disturbing the court.

He waited outside in a Dodge Caravan.

Later, his wife came out and the couple began arguing, police wrote. She took their 4-year-old son from the car and they walked away on East Fayette Street. Just then, Sauerburger stepped out from the downtown courthouse with his secretary and handyman.

“Suddenly and without warning, Mr. Smith stomped on the accelerator of the Caravan, turned into traffic and rammed Mr. Sauerburger with his van,” police wrote.

The landlord was slammed into oncoming traffic, dragged and pinned between the van and another car.

“What did you do?” the secretary, Melissa Koethe, screamed at Smith, according to police. She could not be reached for comment.

Bystanders rushed to help Sauerburger. Firefighters arrived and used lifts to raise the Caravan and free the injured landlord. He was rushed to the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

Police questioned the witnesses. One person told officers they confronted Smith on the street.

“You hit that man on purpose,” the witness said.

Police say Smith replied: “You’re damn right I did! He needs to learn a little respect.”

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