St. Mary's Homicide Rate Jumps In 2006

By Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 4, 2007

St. Mary's County recorded Southern Maryland's most dramatic spike in homicides last year -- six in 2006 compared with one in 2005 -- according to figures provided by local law enforcement agencies.

Across the tri-county area, there were 12 homicides last year, compared with six the year before.

Two of the St. Mary's killings were especially violent. On June 11, upstairs at the Bay District firehouse in Lexington Park, a volunteer firefighter allegedly beat his mother's longtime boyfriend with a golf club before stabbing him with a pocketknife. The suspect wrapped the body in plastic and dragged it into a storage area, authorities said. Nicholas T. Potts III was charged with first-degree murder in the case.

Three months later, in a Lexington Park subdivision, Jonathan Howard, 40, shot his way into a house he once shared with his wife and their three children. He then fired several shots into another man's chest, killing him. He chased his estranged wife through neighbors' yards and down a street while she screamed for help, witnesses said. Howard shot her in the leg, then fatally shot himself in the chest, authorities said. The couple's children hid inside during the chaos.

More recently, a Maryland state police officer shot and killed a man who had fired shots from a house just south of Leonardtown where he had barricaded himself with weapons Dec. 25. The shooting added to St. Mary's homicide total.

Robberies also increased in St. Mary's. There were about 53 in 2006, compared with 38 the year before. County residents seemed to grow weary, electing new Sheriff Tim Cameron (R), who promised "relentless pursuit" of drug dealers and new strategies to fight crime.

To the north in Calvert County, there was one homicide in 2006, the June shooting of a migrant farm worker. The year's highest-profile case actually began during the final hours of 2005, when a Chesapeake Beach bartender came home to find her former boyfriend waiting for her. Graham D. Buckmaster, also of Chesapeake Beach, allegedly killed Lisa M. Moore with a shotgun blast and then fled into nearby woods. He remained on the run for three days.

Buckmaster, a restaurant operator, turned up in Tennessee, caught by a U.S. Park Police officer who spotted his white GMC pickup traveling through Cumberland Gap National Historic Park.

In Charles County, Southern Maryland's most populous jurisdiction, authorities said the biggest challenge they face is continued growth. The county's population has gone from an estimated 120,546 residents in 2000 to 138,822 residents last year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The number of crime incidents tends to grow with the number of people, and the addition of subdivisions means there is more territory to patrol. The Charles Sheriff's Office plans to request funding in the fiscal 2008 budget for more deputies.

Charles recorded five homicides in 2006, one more than the year before. One of the 2006 incidents classified as a homicide was a rarity for Charles: an officer killing a suspect. On March 18, in La Plata, three deputies were trying to handcuff a suspect on drunken driving charges. The man pulled away, took out a semiautomatic handgun and fired a shot that missed the officers, authorities said.

Officer Clint Walter, a four-year veteran of the sheriff's department, fired one shot, striking the suspect in the chest. A grand jury that reviewed the case and Charles State's Attorney Leonard C. Collins (D) determined that the shooting was justified.

The final homicide of 2006 occurred late last Thursday. Masked gunmen shot at four young men sitting in a car during an attempted robbery on a residential street in Waldorf, killing one and seriously wounding another, police said.

Perhaps the highest-profile crimes in Charles last year were incidents in which racist graffiti was spray-painted on cars, buildings, roads, signs and houses. The FBI has joined that investigation.

There have been at least 11 such cases in Charles since August. Officials arrested two 15-year-olds in connection with one incident but could not tie them to the other incidents, which have been classified as hate crimes by the sheriff's office.

Authorities in all three Southern Maryland counties say they have not seen rampant gang-related activity. In Charles, where authorities have a gang awareness project underway, the sheriff's office has identified approximately 215 gang members.

About 95 are juveniles, belonging mostly to neighborhood gangs not affiliated with national networks. These juveniles commit some robberies but are not believed to be involved in highly structured, criminal enterprise, authorities said. An additional 80 Charles adults belong to national gangs but tend to go out of the county to engage in gang activity, said Detective J. Burroughs, a Charles County sheriff's deputy. Authorities suspect 30 or so Charles residents are members of outlaw motorcycle gangs.

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