Nearly two years ago, a carjacking victim caught the attention of parents throughout the region with her daring escape — jumping out of her moving car with her 20-month-old son cradled in her arms and rolling onto the Capital Beltway.
On Friday, moments before the assailant was sentenced, Elsya Samuels spoke in court for the first time, offering details of just how harrowing it was.
“I had him like this the whole time,” she told Montgomery County Circuit Judge Marielsa Bernard, wrapping her arms across her chest. “I didn’t care about me — as long as I could keep his head from hitting the ground.”
Six feet behind her in the courtroom was her son, Julius, now 3, sitting in a purple chair, his black sneakers dangling. He alertly looked around at all the people he didn’t know — bailiffs, reporters, court clerks — smiling as he did so.
For the most part, his mother told the judge, Julius goes about his days just fine. One exception is when they stop at gas stations, like the one where they were abducted. “He’s really clingy,” she said.
Bernard sentenced the defendant, Terron White, 24, to 30 years in prison. She also told him she couldn’t understand why he terrorized the victims.
“Put yourself in Ms. Samuels’ mind,” the judge told him. “How do you think you would have felt?”
“You want me to answer that?” he asked.
“Yes,” said the judge.
“I think about that every day; every day it comes across my mind,” White said, adding, “That day I wasn’t in the right state of my mind.”
That certainly seemed to be the case, based on the account of the incident offered Friday by Samuels, prosecutors Eric Nee and Karen McNeeley, and Cpl. Brandon Gosnell, one of the Maryland state troopers who pursued White that night.
Things started shortly after 10 p.m. at a Citgo gas station in Baltimore, where Samuels pulled up in her 1995 Lexus with Julius in a car seat in the back. She had one foot in the car and one foot out when White came running toward the car — having had an altercation inside the gas station.
White jumped in the front seat while Samuels jumped in the back and tried to get Julius out. White ordered her to stay in the car and — now behind the wheel — rammed his way out of the gas station lot, sped through red lights in Baltimore and was quickly on the interstate heading south.
Samuels tried to call for help, but White grabbed her cell phone and tossed it out the sunroof. She told White that if he would stop and let her and her son out, she would let him have the car, the money inside it — and she’d even wait for two hours before calling the police. White kept driving.
“I was trying to keep calm, mainly for my son,” Samuels said in court.
At one point, White smashed the driver’s side window, picked up a shard of glass and threatened Samuels. His words were often nonsensical. “I love you, and I don’t love anyone,” he said. “No, I don’t. I’m gonna kill all of us.”
White also demanded Samuels move to the front seat to adjust the radio. She crawled up, holding Julius in her arms.
As they hurtled toward Washington, White slowed the vehicle behind a Maryland State Police cruiser that was parked near a construction zone, telling Samuels he was about to let them out. Then he yelled “Psyche!” and hit the gas, slammed into the cruiser and sped off. The trooper gave chase, but White accelerated to more than 100 mph, cut off the Lexus’s lights and temporarily got away.
As White raced around the Capital Beltway into Montgomery County, other troopers picked up the pursuit — following the Lexus, still with no headlights on, as it hit speeds of 80 miles per hour and swerving across lanes. One of the troopers, Jason Batty, pulled up beside the Lexus and saw Samuels waving her hands and yelling, “Help!”
He tucked in behind the car, which slowed down. Inside the car, White was telling Samuels to put her seat belt on. Samuels pretended to wrap the seat belt around her and Julius, even making the clicking noise.
“I prayed, and I jumped,” she said.
She suffered injuries to her neck and back but was able to protect Julius.
A short time later, White — now alone in the Lexus — stopped the car. Troopers converged and arrested him. On Friday, White apologized to Samuels, her family and his own family.
Afterward, Samuels said she sympathized with White for the long prison stay he has ahead of him.
“I wanted to tell him that I was sorry and I forgive him,” she said after the hearing. “I’m just blessed that we’re alive.”