Woman's car lost after police move vehicles for security near Obama speech

By Shankar Vedantam
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 19, 2010; 10:15 PM

Martena Clinton drove to the Congressional Black Caucus dinner at the Washington Convention Center on Saturday with high expectations. A friend had arranged a ticket, and Clinton wore a special diamond pendant over her black dress. She parked in a handicapped spot close to the intersection of 9th Street and Mount Vernon Place and glanced in the mirror. She decided the diamond pendant didn't go with her dress, took it off and put it in a console.

She displayed a handicapped tag prominently, locked her car and checked with a police officer who happened to be parked right behind her. He assured her the spot was legal. Clinton put her credit cards, cash and makeup in a pocketbook and left it in the trunk, carrying a small purse into the dinner. It was 5:30 p.m.

When she emerged from the dinner at 11:30 p.m., her black 1994 Lexus was gone.

The police officer who responded to Clinton's distressed call told her that the Secret Service had done what many Washingtonians have grown begrudgingly used to: They ordered numerous cars removed from the area as a security precaution because President Obama was speaking at the dinner.

It should have been simple for Clinton to find her car - police told her that relocated vehicles are typically towed to different spots within a few blocks - but this time police had not kept track of where they had moved it. The Lexus was lost.

District police searched for the car for two hours Saturday night, circling the neighborhood again and again. Clinton, who is a travel consultant, and Gardine Tiggle, the friend who invited her to the dinner, waited at the spot immediately outside the convention center where Clinton had parked the Lexus. Clinton has the handicapped tag because her husband suffered a stroke.

By 1:30 a.m., police had searched a one-mile radius of the convention center and found not a trace of the car.

Embarrassed about the missing vehicle, an officer called area hotels and helped Clinton find a room for the night. On Sunday morning, police resumed the search. Still nothing.

"We don't know if it has been lost or stolen," said Lt. Jonathan Munk, of the 3rd District, who was supervising the search. "I was told the cars were relocated, but we don't know. It could have been stolen. We just don't know."

District police did not respond to a reporter's additional calls and e-mail requests for information.

The possibility that Clinton's car had been stolen before police relocated the group of parked cars - which could have explained why officers did not have a record of the car being moved - was pooh-poohed by Clinton and Tiggle. It made no sense that someone would steal an old Lexus parked in a high-traffic area swarming with police and Secret Service agents, they said.

Clinton said she accepted that people in Washington are sometimes inconvenienced by presidential security, and she said she's okay with the idea, generally. But it seemed incomprehensible to her that someone's car could be lost as a result.

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