June Weapons Case Against Bus Slaying Suspect Was Dropped

By Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 15, 2008

One of the men charged in the killing this month of a 14-year-old honors student on a Montgomery County transit bus was arrested on a weapons charge in June, a case that was dropped when county police did not show up for his trial.

Police officials said yesterday that they were trying to learn why the arresting officer was not present for the trial of Gilmar L. Romero, who is charged with first-degree murder in the Nov. 1 slaying of Tai Lam in Silver Spring. "We have not been able to verify whether the officer received a summons or not," said Lt. Paul Starks, a police spokesman.

On June 24, an officer spotted Romero and another man walking along University Boulevard East. The officer noticed Romero concealing something, turned his car around, searched him and found a machete tucked in his waistband, police said. The charges were dropped when the case went to trial in July.

On Nov. 1, a group, including Romero, exchanged words with another group on a Ride On bus, police said. When Romero's group stepped off the bus, a member of that group, Hector Hernandez, opened fire, killing Lam and wounding two others, police said.

Authorities have said Hernandez and Romero are illegal immigrants and gang members. Both of them were processed through the Montgomery County jail for earlier arrests. As a matter of policy, Montgomery jail officials do not ask detainees about their immigration status. They did not notice after their earlier arrests that Romero and Hernandez were in the country illegally.

It is unclear what effect the dropping of the earlier case against Romero, 20, might have had on later events. Had he been convicted, it is unlikely he would have received a sentence calling for significant jail time, if any. He was arrested in the Lam killing Thursday in Houston.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company