By Barry Svrluga and Clarence Williams
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, June 25, 2005
On Wednesday night, the Washington Nationals returned from their 10-day, three-city road trip still in first place in the National League East. They arrived at RFK Stadium by bus from Dulles Airport, grabbed their luggage and headed for their cars.
But when they arrived in the players' parking lot beyond the right field wall at RFK Stadium, they discovered that several of their cars had been broken into -- and that of outfielder Marlon Byrd had been stolen -- a breach of security that left several players angered and shaken.
"Bottom line, it was a [expletive] job done here by the people who work here, a [expletive] job here," Byrd said before last night's 3-0 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays. "There's no way that my car can be driven off the lot while we're out of town, and I get here, and I'm walking around looking for my car. Whoever's job it was, whoever's supposed to be doing that job, did not do their job."
The D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, which manages the stadium, is responsible for security at the stadium, but commission officials could not say how many cars were broken into or when, exactly, the break-in occurred. "We have had a couple of incidents," commission chairman Mark Tuohey said last night. "We are looking into it. I have no further comment."
A security videotape captured four men entering the RFK lots in a black Dodge Ram extended cab truck at about 1:15 p.m. Monday and breaking into 11 vehicles, said D.C. Police Inspector Andy Solberg.
At least three men from the truck, which possibly had West Virginia license plates, worked quickly and efficiently -- "like a precision team" -- popping locks and scouring through vehicles for valuables, he said. The men completed the thefts within minutes, Solberg said, although they spent more than an hour traveling between two lots. The thieves took credit cards, cash, a jacket, gloves and CDs. The truck also hit a white Chevy Cavalier, damaging a rear bumper.
The lot was not locked during the time of the break-ins, police said.
Byrd's Cadillac Escalade was stolen from the stadium two days later. Police hope to enhance a copy of the video to help investigators identify the suspects.
According to a police source, the videotape showed that the thieves remained calm when trouble arose. When a passerby walked near three of the thieves, the men simply sat in one of the violated vehicles and waited until the passerby left the scene, the source said. The men then continued to rifle through the car, the source said.
Team officials said in addition to Byrd's stolen car, 12 vehicles in two separate lots were damaged -- seven owned by front-office officials in one lot, five owned by players or coaches in the lot beyond right field.
Team sources said the cars of Byrd and outfielder Ryan Church, as well as those of coaches Tom McCraw, Eddie Rodriguez and Don Buford and assistant athletic trainer Scott Lawrenson, were broken into, but Byrd's was the only one stolen. Players and coaches said that all the cars that were targeted were American-made, despite the fact that several luxury imports sat in the lot from the time the Nationals departed for Anaheim, Calif., on the night of June 12, until their return on Wednesday night.
Team members said pitcher Luis Ayala's car was broken into during an earlier road trip, and they were frustrated that security hadn't improved.
"I asked the security guard after the first time, 'Are you going to have security?' " McCraw said. "He said, '24 [hours a day], seven [days a week]. You don't have to worry about nothing.' Well, he was wrong."
McCraw said a set of golf clubs was stolen from his Lincoln Navigator. Tony Robinson, a sports commission spokesman, said the lot is under surveillance by video cameras and is checked "periodically" by a security officer.
"They couldn't say how often that was," Robinson said. He said the commission was working on plans to increase security by installing a card scanner that would only allow players and staff to enter the lot.
"Suffice it to say, we'll be doing more," Robinson said. But even before this incident, several players said they refused to park their cars at RFK during road trips.
"I'm not stupid," outfielder Jose Guillen said. "I got nice cars. I got one car that's worth $280,000. I'm not leaving it here. This is a weird, weird, weird place."
Byrd said security had video of his car leaving the parking lot, but that he had little hope of getting it back. The incident clearly has strained the relationship between the sports commission and the club.
"Believe me," Nationals President Tony Tavares said, "this has been a topic of discussion here all day."
Most players said that even with increased security, they will take cabs to RFK on days the team departs for road trips in the future. "It's not worth it," catcher Brian Schneider said. "Someone breaking into cars, it's a worry that none of us want to have. So if it's not here, there's nothing for us to worry about. It really stinks."
Staff writer Thomas Heath contributed to this report.