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The Jiffy Plumbing & Heating crew was replacing a sewer on March 9 when mechanic James Gross asked company helper Carroll Miller to assist another man with some concrete work.
Miller, a 6-foot-tall mustachioed man in his 40s, responded with a request of his own. Indicating the trench the crew had excavated in the front yard of 1502 13th St. NW—a three-story, green-and-white apartment building that abuts Logan Circle—Miller dared Gross to guess the size of the hole.
“I guess he was having a hard day,” says the 49-year-old Gross, who lives in Crownsville, Md. A police report filed later that day indicates that Miller may have been drinking.
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Nevertheless, Gross took him up on the bet. In the shadow of the morning clouds, they made eyeball calculations and laid down their estimates. “He said, like, 15 foot,” recalls Gross. “I said, like, 9 foot.”
After formal measurement, Gross says, “it turned out it was about 6-and-a-half foot.” Gross, with the closer estimate, claimed victory.
That bit of excitement over, the two men got back to work, or at least Gross did. Miller wandered off at some point, then came back to stand next to the mechanic. And that is when, says Gross, “the sonofabitch went off.”
“I was bending down to pick up something,” he says, “and he was standing, and when I raised up he clocked me with a brick.”
Gross took the blow to his left jaw. “I was stunned, more or less. It didn’t knock me out or nothing.” Miller started shouting obscenities, says Gross, and “I told him he was fired.”
Third District police responding to a radio run arrived at the work site, but not before Miller left the scene. He has not been arrested.
A hospital X-ray didn’t detect any serious damage to Gross’ face. He returned to the building and saw the sewer project to completion. “I was just trying to get the job done,” he says. “I finished the job.”
Marc Wolfe, a Jiffy operations manager, confirms that Miller was recently fired after a year and a half at the company. “He’s kind of one of these guys your heart goes out to,” says Wolfe. “He’s an adult, and the guy’s still living at home, making $10 an hour digging holes three days out of four.” To the best of his knowledge, says Wolfe, Miller doesn’t even have a phone.
Gross says his assailant has been “in and out” of the Hyattsville shop since the brick toss—and not to make amends, either.
“He didn’t apologize. I don’t want him to apologize. I want him locked up,” says Gross.
“Guy hits a man with a brick and all he has to do is help somebody with some concrete? He ain’t right.” CP