District leaves empty vehicle near White House for days
Friday, February 26, 2010
For more than a week, the silver Mercury Grand Marquis with Texas tags sat in a traffic lane of 15th Street NW near the intersection with M Street in the District.
Yet for a sedan resting unattended less than a mile from the White House and directly outside the building housing the Embassy of Djibouti it did not attract keen official attention.
On the dashboard was an Army base pass for Fort Lee, Va., issued in the name of a man identified as "International Student/Military Orders." On the back seat, was a diagram labeled "Petroleum Terminal Tank Farm Complex." A crumpled potato chip bag and an empty pack of Marlboro Lights were up front.
Nothing damning, but enough to pique interest and certainly enough to track the car.
Three parking tickets fluttered under the wiper: from Feb. 16, Feb. 17, Feb. 18. Each issued by the same parking-enforcement officer. Each carried a $100 fine.
It took one phone call from a Washington Post reporter to Fort Lee to reach First Lt. Mohammad al Romayan of Saudi Arabia's National Guard, whose car it is and whose name appeared on the pass to the base, where he is training.
He filed a stolen car report Feb. 13 with D.C. police, he said, after coming to the city to shop. He had been near 13th and M streets NW and thought he'd been towed. He called the numbers listed on parking signs, he said, scouted the area by cab and eventually rented a car to return to base.
The fuel-tank diagram, he said, was something his class studied as part of supply operations during quartermaster training.
The reporter's call Tuesday afternoon was the first about his car, he said. "You have seen my car? Can you tell me where it is?"
In the middle of a downtown street.
"It is? I do not know your processes but would not someone call if that is so?"
That was the question for Assistant Chief Patrick Burke, who heads the Metropolitan Police Department's Homeland Security Bureau, and Linda Grant, spokeswoman for the District's Department of Public Works.
Burke said in an e-mail that he "would have to review" what happened. "We do train both public and private sector on suspicious activity."
Grant asked for added details and in less than two hours, the Marquis was sporting a yellow sticker saying "tow ASAP" and "Dangerous." It was towed before Tuesday's evening commute.
Grant then issued a formal statement saying the department "acknowledges" someone did not follow procedure. He said nothing about threat assessments.
Al Romayan got a ride to D.C. Wednesday and, at the tow lot, was told to go to a "big city building" about the parking tickets. "The judge asked me to say what happened and then told me the tickets were thrown away."