Opinion | Anatomy of a DC Carjacking: A Chance Encounter with Deadly Consequences

I don't care that the number of car thefts in Washington fell significantly in the first half of 2024 compared to the previous year, because I am so sickened by what happened to Leslie Marie Gaines. She was the 55-year-old victim of an unarmed carjacking Monday afternoon at MedStar Washington Hospital Center.

It's one of those events that completely throws you off balance.

Gaines' day began at the hospital's rehabilitation facility on nearby Irving Street NW, where she went to physical therapy around 11:15 a.m. It ended at George Washington University Hospital, where she was pronounced dead at 2:38 p.m.

What has happened in the meantime leaves me frustrated and angry because the true justice her family wants for her is impossible. That is, if justice also means showing mercy and compassion to one another. If there had been a little of that on Monday, Gaines would still be alive today.

Court documents describe some of the key events in the case. The documents also provide information about why Washington, D.C. police charged 22-year-old Kayla Kenisha Brown in connection with Gaines' death.

Where was there mercy for Gaines that day?

According to court documents, Gaines and her daughter drove to the entrance of MedStar's emergency room because Gaines was not feeling well after her physical therapy. Gaines' daughter went inside to get wheelchair assistance for her mother, who remained in the car with the engine running, documents say. But when the daughter returned to the entrance, both the car and her mother were gone.

A Washington DC Police Department news release said Brown walked away from her family at MedStar around 1:11 p.m. just as Gaines and her daughter pulled up. After Gaines' daughter went inside to get the wheelchair, Brown got in the driver's seat and drove away with Gaines in the car, according to the police report.

Where was the compassion for a sick mother?

How it ended is clear from documents.

The car, with Brown driving and Gaines in the passenger seat, was observed traveling at a high rate of speed when it failed to negotiate a curve at Sixth and D Streets NW and collided with a barrier in front of the U.S. Attorney's office. With the keys in hand, Brown attempted to flee on foot and was caught by police, while Gaines was found unconscious in the passenger seat. Police administered first aid until EMS arrived to take her to George Washington University Hospital.

How did Gaines and Brown meet? The answer concerns an important part of this story.

Court documents also provide this account: Around the time Gaines and her daughter arrived at the rehab center, police responded to a 911 call from a woman who was screaming and asking for help before the line went dead. Police and paramedics went to the apartment where the call came from, where they met Brown and her mother. Brown stared at them but did not answer their questions.

Brown's mother said her daughter “went out with a man she met on Instagram and obtained drugs,” court documents summarized. Brown's father said “she was acting crazy for about three days,” court documents state.

Paramedics determined that Brown's blood pressure and heart rate were high for her age and transported her by ambulance to MedStar, where she arrived at 12:40 p.m.

After determining that Brown was not a crime victim, police left the emergency room at about 12:46 p.m. Brown remained there until she left her family.

On Friday, I saw Brown sitting at the defendant's table in DC Superior Court in an orange jumpsuit. And I heard Det. Roberto Torres describe the events surrounding the carjacking and Brown's arrest. Leslie Marie Gaines was missing.

At the end of the preliminary hearing, the court found that Brown's actions were “incredibly dangerous” and that she should be “held without bail” until her next hearing. But where is the justice in that?

I'm not talking about the carjacking charge against Brown; we'll see what comes of that. I'm thinking about the words of Brown's mother and father when their daughter went out with a man to get drugs and acted crazy. I'm asking why, if the parents' statements are true, I should rethink drug dealing, as reformers want me to. This city is full of people in the drug supply chain. And this city is also full of innocent people who end up being victims of behavior fueled by the poison that drug dealers push.

But these sellers are probably men and women living in poverty who sell drugs to survive. I am told to think again.

Instead, I think of Gaines, strapped into her daughter's car. Think of the shoplifting, carjackings, robberies and turf wars that plague our streets, all fueled by the search for drugs.

Out of compassion, we must think of all of these things, not just the dealers and users. But we don't give a second thought to people like Leslie Marie Gaines – “an angel on earth,” as her sister Erica Gaines called her – who are victims of drug abuse every day. It's an ordeal so common that it goes ignored – until a car crashes into a wall and an innocent soul is left for dead.

Pray that Leslie Marie Gaines will find peace. But where is the justice?