Anatomy of a D.C. Carjacking: Two Paths Cross and an Innocent Life is Lost

Keith L. Alexander/The Washington Post
A carjacked vehicle collided into a concrete barrier outside the U.S. Attorney’s Office in D.C. on Monday.

I care less that D.C. carjackings are significantly down in the first half of 2024 compared with a year ago because I’m so sickened by what happened to Leslie Marie Gaines. She was the 55-year-old victim of an unarmed carjacking at the MedStar Washington Hospital Center on Monday afternoon.

It’s one of those events that stops you in your tracks.

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

What happened in between leaves me frustrated and mad as hell because the true justice that her family wants for her is impossible. That is, if justice also means showing mercy and compassion to one another. Were a sliver of that present on Monday, Gaines would be alive today.

Court documents detail some of the key events in this case. The documents also point to reasons D.C. police charged Kayla Kenisha Brown, 22, in connection Gaines’s death.

Where was mercy for Gaines on that day?

According to the court records, Gaines and her daughter pulled up to MedStar’s emergency room entrance because Gaines wasn’t feeling well following her physical therapy. Gaines’s daughter went inside to seek wheelchair assistance for her mother, who remained in the car with the engine running, the documents say. But when the daughter returned to the entrance, both the car and her mother were missing.

A D.C. police news release reported that at about 1:11 p.m., Brown walked away from her family at MedStar just as Gaines and her daughter were pulling up. After Gaines’s daughter went inside for the wheelchair, police report, Brown entered the driver’s seat and drove away with Gaines inside the car.

Where was compassion for an ailing mother?

Documents tell us how it ended.

The car, with Brown at the wheel and Gaines in the passenger seat, was observed traveling at high speed when it failed to negotiate a turn at Sixth and D streets NW and collided with a barrier outside the office of the U.S. attorney. Keys in hand, Brown tried to flee on foot and was caught by the police, while Gaines was found unconscious in the front passenger seat. Police provided first aid until emergency medical services arrived to transport her to George Washington University Hospital.

How did Gaines and Brown end up crossing paths? The answer gets at an important part of this story.

This account is also drawn from court documents: Around the time Gaines and her daughter were arriving at the rehab center, police were responding to a 911 call from a woman screaming and asking for help before the line disconnected. Police and emergency medical technicians went to the apartment that the call was made from, where they were met by Brown and her mother. Brown stared at them but didn’t respond to their questions.

Brown’s mother said that her daughter, as summarized by court documents, had “gone out and gotten some sort of drug while out with a man she met on Instagram.” Brown’s father indicated “she had been acting crazy for about three days,” court documents state.

Emergency medical technicians found that Brown’s blood pressure and heart rate were too high for her age and transported her by ambulance to MedStar, where she arrived 12:40 p.m.

After determining that Brown was not a crime victim, the police left the emergency room around 12:46 p.m. That’s where Brown remained until she walked away from her family.

In D.C. Superior Court on Friday, I saw Brown at the defendant’s table in an orange jumpsuit. And I heard Det. Roberto Torres describe the events surrounding the carjacking and Brown’s arrest. Missing was Leslie Marie Gaines.

At the end of the preliminary hearing, the court found that Brown’s actions were “incredibly dangerous” and that she must be “held without bond” until the next hearing. Still, where’s the justice?

I’m not talking about the carjacking charge against Brown; we’ll see what happens with that. I’m thinking of the words of Brown’s mother and father about their daughter going out with a man to get some kind of drug, and her acting crazy, and ask why, if the parent’s representations are true, should I rethink the drug trade, 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 on the receiving end of behaviors fueled by the poison that drug dealers push.

Ah, but those sellers are likely to be men and women experiencing poverty and selling drugs for survival. Rethink, I’m told.

Instead, I’ll think of Gaines strapped in her daughter’s car. Think of the shoplifting, car thefts, robberies and turf wars plaguing our streets, all fueled by drug-seeking.

Mercy demands we think of all that, not just the dealer and the users. But we don’t give a second thought to people like Leslie Marie Gaines – “an angel on earth,” her sister Erica Gaines called her – who day in and out fall victim to people with substance use disorders. It’s a torment so commonplace that it is ignored – until a car smashes into a wall and an innocent soul is pronounced dead.

Pray Leslie Marie Gaines is at peace. But where’s the justice?