Car crash knocks out Rahman victory parade

A fist-pumping crowd honored Baltimore's world heavyweight boxing champion Hasim "Rock" Rahman at City Hall yesterday - a celebration marred by a car crash that knocked the fighter and his family from the back of a convertible.

Rahman, his wife, Crystal, and at least one of his children tumbled into the street when, police said, the driver of a Volkswagen Jetta ignored a traffic officer, sped by a cruiser blocking a downtown intersection and broadsided Rahman's parade car.

Rahman was later released from Johns Hopkins Hospital, where his wife was held overnight for observation.

"The Jetta just came through and hit the car, and we went flying," Rahman said after the 1:30 p.m. crash at East Lombard and South streets. "That's all I remember."

The accident scene was a spectacle rivaling the hoopla surrounding Rahman's surprising fifth-round knockout of Lennox Lewis in South Africa early Sunday.

It drew hoards of media, the police commissioner and Mayor Martin O'Malley, who argued with a self-proclaimed friend of the champ over whether police could have prevented the crash by giving Rahman more protection.

At noon, hundreds of fans had gathered three blocks away at City Hall and watched as Rahman, a 20-1 underdog in the fight, stood in a regulation-sized ring and held his title belt over his head.

"This is Baltimore's day. I didn't do this myself," he said. "When I was in the ring, I felt Baltimore and stomped on Lennox Lewis. And we're going to stomp on [Mike] Tyson, too. We're all champions, and we all stick together."

Rahman alluded to his days growing up in Baltimore, where his reputation as a street fighter led him into many altercations, and where as a young man he was once shot five times and convicted once on drug charges.

"I've been in far worse situations," Rahman told the crowd. "After all the adversity I had to overcome on the streets of Baltimore, I thought [British world boxing champ] Lennox Lewis was a cakewalk."

Rahman and O'Malley said they would try to bring former heavyweight champ Mike Tyson to Baltimore to match him against Rahman. The champ also said he was going to appear on the "Tonight Show with Jay Leno" tomorrow and wanted to take the mayor with him.

He gave O'Malley a pair of signed boxing gloves, which the mayor said he would display in a glass case in City Hall.

"Baltimore is the city of chaaaaampions!" O'Malley said, imitating a boxing announcer.

The mayor read a proclamation to the crowd, naming yesterday Hasim "Rock" Rahman day in Baltimore, "showing Baltimore still has what it takes to knock the stuffing out of the British."

Rahman's father, John Cason, who is a chaplain for the state prison system, addressed the crowd with a Muslim greeting and said he hopes Rahman proves to be a worthy champion.

"I'm proud to point to him as a role model for your sons and brothers," Cason said. "I pray for him that he will be a heavyweight champion worthy of being a role model for your children."

The throngs then listened to a song written in honor of Rahman called "Hit 'em up style" by the Breakfast Flakes, the morning disc jockeys for radio station WERQ-FM (92-Q). The lyrics included:

Hey, Lennox in the ring you better not smile. Rahman's got the hit 'em up style.

Put his hand on your jaw and knocked you out a while.

Oooooh! One on the chin for Baltimore. Now Lennox is out the door.

After the rally, Rahman got into the convertible, along with four family members and his trainer - several of whom sat on the top of the back seat so they could wave to the crowd as they made their way to a lunch at the ESPNzone at the Inner Harbor.

The occupants were identified as Rahman, 28; his wife, Crystal, 27; his daughter, Amirah, 2; his sons Sharif, 4, and Hasim Jr., 9; and his trainer, Stanley Hoffman, 69. The car was driven by Charles Krysiak, 35, the chief of the city's fleet management division.

Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris said officers were escorting Rahman's car because fans gathered around it each time it stopped at an intersection, creating a dangerous situation.

A tactical officer driving an unmarked Ford Crown Victoria escorted the convertible south on South Street. At East Lombard Street, Norris said, the officer turned on interior flashing lights, on the dashboard and rear window, and drove into the intersection to stop westbound traffic, which had the green light.

Norris said the officer got out of the car, stood in the middle of the four-lane street and held up his hands. The convertible then drove into the intersection, but was broadsided by the Jetta driven by Michael Heisler, 37, who police said sped by the officer and the cruiser.

The crash sent the convertible spinning into a taxicab stopped at a red light on northbound South Street. "Now I know how Lennox Lewis feels," said the Yellow Cab's driver, Yahya John Saki. "I saw it coming, but I couldn't do anything to stop it."

The impact threw people out of the convertible. "Rahman fell out of the car holding onto two of his kids," said his promoter, Cedric Kushner.

Rahman's wife, Crystal, suffered bruises and felt dizzy. Everyone else was released from the hospital.

O'Malley rushed to the hospital to talk with the victims.

At the crash scene, witnesses posed for television cameras as a dozen police officers and accident investigators, who normally handle only fatalities, took measurements and interviewed witnesses.

Bob Danna, who told reporters he was Rahman's friend and saw the crash, challenged police accounts and complained that officers were neither leading the boxing champion's car nor blocking the intersection.

He went so far as to charge that city police purposely dropped protection because they were aware of Rahman's arrest record.

Norris, who heard Danna's blast, grew visibly angry and told him: "You've turned a nice day into an unfortunate event."

Norris called O'Malley several times on a cell phone, prompting the mayor to drive to the scene and confront Danna.

"The Police Department messed up," Danna told him. "Something went terribly wrong."

O'Malley shot back: "Yeah, a guy didn't obey a police officer who was stopping traffic."

Police said that their investigation was continuing and that they had not charged anyone with a traffic offense as of last night. A department spokeswoman said there was conflicting information from witnesses about how the intersection was blocked.

Two witnesses told The Sun they saw the cruiser blocking the street and its flashing lights, but did not notice the officer standing in the street. They also said the Jetta's driver might not have seen the cruiser because of trucks in other lanes.

Heisler, who lives in Baltimore County and was on his way to work at a mortgage company in Canton, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

He hired his brother, Steven Heisler, a personal injury lawyer, who said, "There never was a cop controlling the street. No officer was there. He would have stopped if there was."

But Rahman said there was an officer in the street, and he said the city provided him adequate police protection.

"I thought the police did a remarkable job," Rahman said. "They gave orders for the driver to stop, and you're supposed to stop. But the guy didn't stop. Everybody else stopped."

Sun staff writers Kimberly A.C. Wilson, Lem Satterfield, Laurie Willis and Cara Nusbaum contributed to this article.