An 86-year-old man died Wednesday afternoon after police said his vehicle was struck by a car driven by men suspected of drug dealing who were fleeing officers in Northwest Baltimore, a tragic example of the peripheral damage of the city's drug trade.
The incident hit particularly close to home for police — the victim is the father of a city officer, whom officials were scrambling to contact Wednesday night.
Joseph Caldwell, 65, was making breakfast when he heard the crash. It shook his house. He looked out the window and saw plainclothes officers chasing two suspects on foot.
When he moved to the front of the house, he saw an elderly couple in a badly damaged vehicle that had crashed into his front deck. The woman, 81, was crying for help; the man, Albert David, was bleeding from the head. He would later die of a heart attack.
"I told them, ‘Hold on, help is coming,' " Caldwell said. "To hear he didn't make it, it don't make no sense."
Police said the suspects — tentatively identified as Umar Burley, 29, and Brent Matthews, 29 — had 35 grams of raw heroin in their vehicle. Burley has twice been charged with handgun violations that were later dropped and has three drug convictions, according to court records.
"Nobody's winning the war on drugs," said Anthony Guglielmi, the department's chief spokesman. "But when you sell drugs, you have guns, and we've been trying to curb violence in Baltimore by targeting those individuals. … Both of these suspects have prior handgun violations."
Plainclothes officers were conducting surveillance on a black Acura in a parking lot near Parkview and Belle Avenues when they saw a man approach the vehicle for what police believe was a drug transaction, Guglielmi said.
Guglielmi said the officers attempted to box in the Acura — apparently on foot — when the driver turned the car and fled. The Acura was out of view by the time the officers had returned to their vehicles, and they drove in its general direction, he said. The department has a policy against chasing speeding vehicles.
About a half mile east on Belle Avenue, in the Howard Park neighborhood, officers observed an accident, Guglielmi said. The suspect vehicle had crashed into a fire hydrant, and the elderly couple's vehicle went through some hedges and into the front of Caldwell's home. Police put the time frame for those events at between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m.
David was taken to Maryland Shock Trauma Center, where he was later pronounced dead. The woman was listed in serious condition. Police confirmed that David is the father of a city officer assigned to the patrol division, whose name they declined to release.
Guglielmi said officers were in the area to investigate "community intelligence" about drug dealing and said it was not connected to the weekend killing of 18-year-old Ramie Mays, who was shot in the head Sunday in the 4800 block of Liberty Heights Ave.
Joyce Fuller, 62, owns the home that was struck by the vehicle and spoke to reporters as public works employees shut off a fire hydrant that had been gushing water for more than five hours. She said she was thankful that the damage to her home wasn't worse, but had the man who died in her thoughts.
"I'd like to take all of these drug dealers and put them in a cargo plane and take them to Iraq," she said. "That couple hadn't done anything. It's just so unfair."