The drive-through window was open for breakfast an hour before dawn and cars were lined up when a peculiar thing happened: A speeding silver SUV plowed into the window at a right angle and caught fire.
The setting was Landover Hills. The restaurant was McDonald’s. The SUV had been carjacked moments earlier.
Though peculiar in its conclusion, the way it began was not extraordinary. Carjackings occur every other day on average in Prince George’s County, which leads the state of Maryland in such crimes, according to recent statistics.
The county had 183 carjackings in 2012, according to the Maryland Uniform Crime Report, eclipsing Baltimore City, with 176; and dwarfing adjacent Montgomery County, which recorded 10 carjackings.
The carjacking that ended with a crash at the drive-through window began just a few minutes earlier. Prince George’s County police said on July 29, a man approached the SUV at a stoplight at 71st Avenue and Annapolis Road. When the driver refused him a ride, the man implied he had a weapon. The driver jumped out; the man jumped in and drove away.
As the SUV raced down Annapolis Road, it clipped two other vehicles, one of them a white minivan, whose driver pursued the SUV until the crash at McDonald’s.
Carjackings declined sharply in Prince George’s after the recession ended, dropping from 355 in 2008 to 162 incidents in 2011. There were 21 more in 2012 than the previous year, and 2013 statistics are scheduled for release in a few weeks.
A Prince George’s County Police spokesman said the data does not provide an accurate reflection of crime or safety in the county, noting that since 2010, violent crime in the county has dropped 30 percent.
Lt. William Alexander also said that the 183 carjackings reported also includes those investigated by municipal police departments in Prince George’s; county police invested 142. In 2013, Prince George’s police investigated 87 carjackings, a nearly 39 percent decrease from 2012, he said.
“We’re not happy with one carjacking or any crime in PG County, but we’re working hard to move in the right direction,” Alexander said.
“Carjacking is a crime of opportunity — a thief, with bad intentions, searching for the most vulnerable prey,” said John B. Townsend II of AAA. “In most carjacking cases nationwide, the intended quarry is alone when the attack occurs.”
There are an average of 49,000 carjackings nationwide each year.
Across Maryland in 2012, the number of carjackings dropped slightly — from 480 in 2011 to 473 — and was far lower than the 836 at the height of the recession in 2008. (The District and Virginia combine carjacking data with related crimes, such as robbery and auto theft.)
In breaking down the carjackings, Maryland found that most carjackers were men, as were most of their victims: 67 percent. Almost half the victims were younger than 26.
Parking lots, driveways and gas stations, places where carjackers could intercept drivers with the keys in their hand or car, were among the favored locations for the crime.
There were 60 incidents in apartment parking lots, 37 in shopping center lots, one in a church parking lot and 34 in other lots. The state reported 55 carjackings at intersections, 41 at gas stations and 30 in home driveways.
Guns or knives were used in 337 incidents, and 54 percent of the crimes took place between 6 p.m. and 1 a.m. The state reported 75 arrests for carjacking that year.
In the July 29 incident, the carjacker jumped from the SUV after it crashed into the McDonald’s and ran. A 21-year-old suspect, Dominique Harrison, was arrested and faces charges related to the carjacking and subsequent crashes, police said.