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European edition, Sunday, August 26, 2007

HEIDELBERG, Germany — Despite two attacks on German taxi drivers in the past three months that have put four American teens in German jails awaiting trial and one cab driver in the hospital, local police say Americans are not a big factor in local law enforcement concerns.

“That (the suspects) are young guys — that’s normal. That they’re American — that’s unusual,” said Harald Kurzer, a Heidelberg Police spokesman.

“We can’t say, ‘Look at these young, American guys, they’re problematical. No. Americans don’t play a role in the German statistics. It’s not a problem.”

Robberies of taxi drivers around Heidelberg occur only about six times a year, Kurzer said, and although Americans might be over-represented in that crime category this year, it’s more or less an anomaly.

As an example of Americans’ involvement in crimes, Kurzer said that in the Heidelberg area in 2005 there were 23 cases of murder or attempted murder, and in 2006 there were 19. None involved Americans.

This year, Heidelberg police have three cases of murder or attempted murder — what Germany classifies as “crimes against life” — involving American suspects.

One involves the stabbing last Sunday morning of a cab driver in the small town of Weinheim-Luetzelsachen, resulting in grave injuries to the driver and the arrest of the 18-year-old son of a U.S. civilian. He is suspected of attempted murder.

The other two are attributed to the January murder on Thompkins Barracks in Schwetzigen of Pfc. Valerie Gamboa and the attempted murder of her roommate, Spc. Jamie Kaskowitz. Pfc. Mario A. Lesesne, Gamboa’s boyfriend and an Army medic, pleaded guilty at a U.S. Army court-martial in June and was sentenced to 99 years in military prison.

Because the Weinheim-Luetzelsachen stabbing happened off-base and was committed by a civilian, the case will be handled in the German system.

So will a May attack on a different cab driver, allegedly by three soldiers’ sons.

Those teens, two of whom are 18 and the other 19, are also in jail after disregarding a German judge’s order that released them until trial but required that they check in daily with police to ensure that they had not fled the country.

None of the suspects has been identified because of German privacy laws.

In police statistics since 2004, the number of Americans suspected in different crimes in the Heidelberg area has increased.

In 2004, only nine Americans were investigated for possible crimes, Kurzer said — one for sexual assault and eight for regular assault.

The next year, 23 Americans were investigated, all for regular assaults. Kurzer said those charges are often a result of bar or street fights.

In 2006, 33 Americans were investigated: six for sexual assault, one for sexual assault of a child under 14, four for robberies in public places, one for an apartment robbery and 21 for regular assaults.

The numbers so far for this year are: two for murder or attempted murder, one for robbery and attempted murder, three for sexual assault, three for assaulting a cab driver and 15 regular assaults.

Kurzer said that with such small numbers, it’s not accurate to conclude that crimes committed by Americans are increasing.

Some years, he said, more victims come forward than others, but that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s an increase in crime.

Additionally, he said, statistics are incomplete.

“Heidelberg is a city of tourists,” Kurzer said. “Is the American living here or a tourist? We don’t know if they’re soldiers or not.”

Nor do the statistics reveal the investigation’s outcome and whether suspects were cleared.

author headshot
Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.
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