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Car abandoned in D.C. rush hour lanes near embassy took a week to tow

The abandoned car in traffic lane at 15th Street NW. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)
For more than a week, the silver Mercury Grand Marquis sat abandoned in a traffic lane of 15th Street NW near the intersection with M Street.

Yet for a big sedan resting unattended in the nation's capital less than a mile from the White House and directly outside the building housing the Embassy of Djibouti it did not seem to be attracting keen official attention.

I'd been passing the Marquis every morning headed to the newsroom and every night headed back out and on Tuesday my curiosity finally got the better of me.

A military parking pass for car appeared on dashboard. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)
What would have been apparent to anyone who walked up and looked is that the dashboard held an Army base pass for Fort Lee, Va., issued in the name of a man who was identified as "International Student/Military Orders."

On the passenger side back seat, was a sheaf of papers and a diagram for what was titled "Petroleum Terminal Tank Farm Complex." A crumbled potato chip bag, a lone CD and an empty packet of Marlboro Lights were up front.

Nothing damning but enough to pique interest, I would have thought. And certainly enough to track the car.

The car faced southbound in lanes that all run northbound on 15th Street at evening rush hour on a busy commuter route, and for those of you who have been trapped in slogs home, that wrong-way car in the 1100 block of 15th has not been your friend. For a time, it had been snuggled up against a mountain of curb-side snow, but that mound had been cleared and in fine D.C. fashion, drivers eager to snag metered parking spaces had taken to driving around the marooned sedan and backing up into the parking spaces it was blocking.

Now the four-door with Texas tags sat as a giant, unmoving, unlit hulk in the middle of a major street in the middle of what I'd have thought was a spot where security would be heightened: big car, embassy, White House nearby.

Three parking tickets fluttered under the wiper: each from around 6 p.m. on Feb. 16, Feb. 17, Feb. 18. Each said a tow had been requested. Each carried a $100 fine.

It took one phone call to Fort Lee to get in touch with First Lt. Mohammad AlRomayan of Saudi Arabia's National Guard, whose car it is and whose name appeared on that base parking passon the dashboard.

He had reported his car stolen to District police on Feb. 13, he said and had a form and tracking number. He'd come to the District from Fort Lee, about 35 miles south of Richmond, where he is training at the quartermaster school. He had been shopping near 13th and M Streets NW and thought he'd been towed when he came back and couldn't locate his car, he said. He called the numbers listed on parking signs, he said, and when he had no luck, filed a stolen car report.

The fuel tank diagram, he said, was his and was something his class at Fort Lee studied as part of quartermaster training, which focuses on supply operations.

Mine was the first call he had about his car, he said Tuesday afternoon. "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?"

His was a more elegant version of my question, which I then put to Assistant Chief Patrick Burke, who heads the Metropolitan Police Department's Homeland Security Bureau, and to Linda Grant, spokeswoman for the District's Department of Public Works.

Burke said he "would have to review" what happened and had put out calls on the car and its handling. "We do train both public and private sector on suspicious activity, and they may have run this for stolen or called it in - I would have to review," he said by email.

Before Tuesday evening rush hour, a tow order appeared. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)
Grant asked for added details about the car and its location and in less than two hours, the Marquis was sporting a bright yellow sticker saying "tow ASAP" and "Dangerous." It was towed before Tuesday's evening commute.

After the tow, Grant issued a formal statement. The bottom line: the department "acknowledges" someone in parking control did not follow procedures for contacting towing services and the incident would be used in future training. The department tows about 50 vehicles a day during rush hour, the statement said.

Nothing about threat assessment..

For his part, AlRomayan was driving with friends to D.C. on Wednesday afternoon to fetch his car.

-- Mary Pat Flaherty

By Mary Pat Flaherty  |  February 25, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Mary Pat Flaherty , The District  
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A car is stolen on Feb 13th. On Feb 16th, 17th, and 18th DC parking enforcement wrote tickets on the car. One would think if there is one section of the DC government that would would be most informed about stolen cars it would be the people who walk around the District looking at cars all day. And please tell me why didn't the system the tickets were entered in didn't flag the cars as stolen.

Posted by: Jimof1913 | February 25, 2010 11:54 AM | Report abuse

All you can do is really laugh at this, because if you don't you'll give yourself a headache.


Posted by: ENJOYA | February 25, 2010 12:32 PM | Report abuse

So if a WaPo journalist didn't drive this route everyday this guy's car would still be sitting there or he would have received a letter a month from now informing him that he has $600 (since they double) worth of tickets and additional towing fees.

He's going to pick up his car, any investigation into who stole it? He was a victim of a crime after all.

One last thing I understand that "someone in parking control did not follow procedures" but if I'm writing ticket #2 and I see that the car has not been towed shouldn't I make sure it has been towed by the time I get to ticket #3? The last ticket was written Feb 18th. It sat 5 more days without another ticket or towing when the city is no longer snowed it.

I just want one official to say you know what this is completely unacceptable I will get to the bottom of what went wrong, make sure Mr. AlRomayan is not penalized in any way and work with MPD to institute a system to instantly identify stolen vehicles by the end of the year. Not gonna happen...

Posted by: sharisesch79 | February 25, 2010 12:42 PM | Report abuse

The city worked better under Mayor Barely.

Posted by: Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_For_Me | February 25, 2010 1:12 PM | Report abuse

DC does a terrible job of removing vehicles, even those parked in No Parking During Rush Hour lanes.

It's not uncommon to see Mass Ave, both NE and SE, grind to a halt because cars are parked there during rush hour.

This is yet another example of how DC just isn't a real city. We allow one person's vehicle to clog an entire major roadway.

It's not an isolated event. It happens every day.

Posted by: Hillman1 | February 25, 2010 1:49 PM | Report abuse

Its because it had a military sticker on it - lookin out for their peoples...

Posted by: rockettonu | February 25, 2010 1:54 PM | Report abuse

Cars parked in the middle of the street, not new... I see cars parked two levels deep all the time on 3rd street D and E st NW. You can even see this on Bing Street view.. No drivers in cars.

the other side of the road, cars are always parked, even during rush hour between 8:30AM and 9AM. The sign clearly says no parking 6:30AM - 9:30AM. and the meters aren't even fed.

DC.. we love it. heheehe.

Posted by: roadrunner_23 | February 25, 2010 2:11 PM | Report abuse

Since when did the everyday incompetence of city employees become news?

Posted by: kmp1 | February 25, 2010 2:17 PM | Report abuse

Does anyone ever watch "Parking Wars" on A&E about the Philadelphia meter maids? I'll bet this would not have happened in Phillie.

DCDPW is a joke.

Posted by: waterfrontproperty | February 25, 2010 2:18 PM | Report abuse

An alternative explanation comes to mind, other than a stolen car. The owner stated that he was shopping at 13th and M, and after shopping he couldn't find his car and reported it stolen. The car was found at 15th and M, only 2 blocks from where the owner was shopping - is it likely that a car thief would leave the car only 2 blocks from where he stole it? Seems to me that when the owner went shopping, he may have forgotten where he parked the car, or gotten the street numbers mixed up. When he couldn't find the car, he reported it stolen. Perhaps the car was found just where the owner left it.

Posted by: allanrg | February 25, 2010 7:58 PM | Report abuse


I can't believe you're only the first person to make that comment after 12 hours. It seems like the most obvious answer: foreign visitor to DC misplaces car downtown and thinks it was towed, gives up. If somebody was going to steal a car they would probably pull the military ID paperwork off the dashboard, and as you said certainly would take it more than 2 blocks.

It's not surprising that the journalist seemed more interested in making a point about ineptness in DC gov't by reporting the owner to the police, rather than helping the 1st Lt get his car back and avoid a tow charge. Certainly one of those actions will get more page views than the other. Thanks for being a good neighbor, Ms. Flaherty! Would you have done the same thing if it was owned by an American military officer?

Posted by: NatsFan71 | February 25, 2010 8:52 PM | Report abuse

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