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Bounty hunter's life on the run

April 16, 2006|By JULIE E. GREENE

WILLIAMSPORT

Gregory Lynn Brechbill Jr. took a smoke break outside his grandmother's home, ate a Big Mac from a McDonald's drive-through and took another smoke break in the parking lot at the Washington County Sheriff's Department.

He did all of this while in handcuffs.

Brechbill had just been apprehended by two bounty hunters, who said they found him hiding in his grandmother's Williamsport basement after he skipped a court date two months earlier.

The bounty hunters took the 20-year-old Brechbill, wearing a T-shirt and denim shorts, out of the house with his hands locked in front of him and a cigarette hanging from his mouth.

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"We try to help him out. Buy him something to eat. It takes awhile to process them," said Greg Toms, one of the bounty hunters, also known as bail-enforcement agents.

No doors were knocked down, and Brechbill appeared cooperative as he emerged from the Williamsport house.

This type of scenario is far more common than the big-screen and television images of bounty hunters breaking into homes with guns drawn and wrestling with fugitives, says Greg Toms, owner of A-Above Average Bail Bonds in Hagerstown.

He and his employee James Conrad are bounty hunters.

So is Duane "Dog" Chapman, star of A&E's "Dog the Bounty Hunter," now in its third season. Chapman and his posse "gear up" with bullet-resistant vests and head out en masse to apprehend fugitives in Hawaii.

While that's a pop-culture view of bounty hunters - one that doesn't fit most bounty hunters - Toms said the show makes a point: "You can't run and forget we bonded you out."

He and Conrad are not into the "praying and cussing" that Chapman is, Toms says, nor can they roll out tons of equipment and personnel to nab someone who skipped out on a $2,500 bond.

While Toms says he and Conrad can, technically, knock down a door when they have reason to believe a defendant who has jumped bond is inside, they're not in the habit of doing so.

After all, the fugitives Toms pursues are his customers.

He wants the repeat business and for his customers to spread the word that A-Above Average Bail Bonds is a good source for bonds.

How it works

Toms estimates 10 of 100 defendants jump bond, or fail to appear in court. Of those 10, about half honestly get the court date wrong.

"The other half are saying 'Come and get me because I'm not coming in,'" Toms says.

When people post bond to get out of jail, Toms, 50, says state law allows him to charge up to 10 percent of the actual bond amount. Often he allows clients to pay 5 percent upfront and the rest in installments.

The court doesn't get paid the full bond amount unless the defendant misses a court date. Even then, in Maryland, the bail bonds agency has 90 days from the time the court date was missed to find the person before the court must be paid, Conrad said.

Conrad says the bonds agency can sometimes get a 90-day extension beyond the original 90 days.

While he believes people are innocent before proven guilty, Toms says he will not bond out accused child molesters or people with histories of fleeing the state.

It's another matter if the person needs to cross state lines for a job, he says.

"We get people out of jail, get them back to work," he says.

Not all glamour

Most of the bounty hunter job entails calling and visiting the fugitive's significant other, family and friends to try to find the person and convince friends and family it's in the fugitive's best interest to cooperate.

Toms occasionally offers rewards for tips and hands out lots of his signature black-and-yellow business cards and pens so people can call if they spot one of the 45 to 50 people he's typically looking for in the course of a year.

Sometimes Toms gets lucky just by showing up at bail review proceedings in Washington County District Court.

People who get arrested sometimes give police false names. At bond review, Toms might recognize a defendant, via the video feed from the Washington County Detention Center, whom he knows has jumped bond on another charge.

That's easy money, but not everything is so easy.

Once, Toms was bitten by a woman. Another time a woman pulled a knife on him, so he pepper-sprayed her and handcuffed her when she fell down, he recalls. Toms and Conrad have suffered the effects of pepper spray, whether from a spraying gone awry or just being in a vehicle with someone who has been sprayed.

Conrad, 44, said he's only had to use his stun gun once in the six years he's been a bail-enforcement agent.

"Once they hear it, it seems that's enough for them," said Conrad. His stun gun sounds like a machine gun and looks like a Maglite with bluish white electrical currents sparking across the flashlight's light.

A fine line

"It used to be that any redneck with a gun could go out and be a bounty hunter," Conrad said. "That gave us a bad rap."

In an attempt to clean up the image of bounty hunters, they are being referred to more as bail-enforcement agents.

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