WASHINGTON – It was a pretty routine Friday night for Wanda Payne.
She drove her 1990 Ford Probe into the lot at her Largo apartment complex and parked in her usual spot: beneath her window and under the floodlights for safety.
Payne, 43, locked the Club on her steering wheel and turned off the ignition. She opened her door, and was reaching for the purse she had left in the back seat when she felt something pressed against her side.
That something was a gun and at the other end was a boy just shy of his 18th birthday with his eyes on her car.
“Give me the keys to your car,” he said. “And give me your purse too.”
Payne’s story is typical of the average carjacking in Maryland, according to a Capital News Service computer analysis of six years of carjacking data from the Maryland State Police.
The analysis of more than 5,000 reported carjackings from 1992 to 1997 found that the overwhelming number of carjackers — just over 95 percent — were males, whose average age is just under 19. Handguns were their weapon of choice, used in 63 percent of the cases, according to the data.
Like Payne, more than half the victims – – 53.75 percent — were not on the road but were parked when they were attacked. Apartment parking lots were the most likely spot for a parked car to be taken, just ahead of shopping center parking lots.
More than half the attacks occurred between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m. and the most likely days were Friday through Sunday — although 10 p.m. Wednesday was tied with 11 p.m. Saturday for the second-highest number of carjackings over the six years. The most carjackings, 66 of them, occurred at 1 a.m. Sunday.
Like Payne, the victims were older than their attackers on average: A little over 34 for men, who made up 72 percent of victims, and a little under 36 for women, who accounted for 27 percent of carjacking victims.
The Honda Accord was the car most often stolen, but status appeared to have little to do with the selection: No. 2 on the list was the Ford Escort.
Blacks made up the majority of both suspects and victims: 2,955 black victims were recorded, or 65.6 percent of the total, and there were a reported 4,061 black suspects, or 90.1 percent of the total.
There were a reported 1,433 white victims and 275 white suspects; 89 Asian victims and six Asian suspects; and 12 American Indian victims, who were not named as suspects in any carjackings. Races for 19 victims and 165 offenders was listed as unknown.
Baltimore led the list of carjackings, accounting for 1,915 of the 4,508 confirmed cases in the state. Prince George’s County was second with 1,581. Together, those two jurisdictions accounted for 77.55 percent of the carjackings in the period. The seven largest jurisdictions in the state accounted for 97 percent of the confirmed carjackings between 1992 and 1997, according to the state police data.
Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend said the state is working aggressively to lower carjacking rates, with particular emphasis on Baltimore City and Prince George’s County. The Hot Spot Communities initiative puts more police in those high-crime areas and provides more probation officers for both juveniles and adults, she said.
“A big reason for the reduction in carjackings in particular is that we have done more with early intervention with juvenile crime and graduation of sanctions that have helped to reduce crime,” she said.
“Since [juveniles] are the ones who largely commit carjackings, our work with that group contributed greatly to the drop. They don’t see it as easier to get away with and we have made it clear that it will not be tolerated,” Townsend said.
Indeed, carjackings have declined sharply, falling from a high of 891 confirmed cases in 1995 to 626 confirmed cases in 1997.
But while the number of carjackings has dropped 29 percent since 1995 — the year Payne was attacked — prosecutors say the crime is still persists in the state, especially in the largest jurisdictions.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom DiBiagio said that although carjackings are down, it is still a widespread and dangerous crime, especially in Baltimore City. DiBiagio handles particularly violent Baltimore carjackings or cases where offenders have committed multiple carjackings or are part of a conspiracy to commit the crime.
“I’m working on a case where a man killed someone during a carjacking. It is a very serious and dangerous crime,” he said.
Most carjackings end without violence. No injuries were reported in 76.9 percent of the cases and only 13 carjackings — or 0.3 percent — ended in homicide.
But Edenburgh Johnson knows just how dangerous a crime carjacking can still be.
He was walking away from his car just after sunset on a day in 1990 when some guys leaning against a fence in Lanham started hassling him. One guy yelled, another heckled. A third asked Johnson for his keys, using a large gun as persuasion.
“I thought it was a pole but it was a gun. I tried to grab him and push him away but it happened so fast,” he said.
Johnson said the gunman aimed for his face, but shot him in the stomach instead. The men left him dazed and bleeding on the pavement as they searched for the keys he had thrown in nearby bushes during the struggle.
“It took like 30 seconds. I didn’t even realize I was shot,” he said.
Payne, who said she feared for her life during her carjacking, has taken steps to make sure it never happens again.
She now walks armed with pepper spray and a personal alarm device. She keeps her guard up no matter what, closely eyeing anyone who comes within 3 feet.
And, though she has moved to safer building in a different city, thoughts of what could have happened that February night continue to haunt her.
“I thought I was going to die. He had my whole life in his hands,” said Payne. “He had the keys to my house, all of my personal information. I had nowhere to hide.
“For weeks, every noise scared me. Though the locks were changed, I was still terrified that he had access to my home,” said Payne.
“Things are a little better now but I still live in fear,” she said.