Suspect in chase drove car of apparent murder victim

February 06, 1998|By MARLO BARNHART and JULIE GREENEs

Suspect in chase drove car of apparent murder victim

The owner of the car involved in Thursday's chase west of Hagerstown was found dead in his home at 10 last night, an apparent murder victim, police said this morning.

Already charged with serious offenses stemming from the chase, the driver, Robert Ray Eckard, was being questioned this morning in connection with the death of Samuel Lease Wolfe, 59, of Williamsport, according to Sgt. Doug Mullendore of the Washington County Sheriff's Department.

"Wolfe, who lives alone, was found at the bottom of his basement stairs Thursday night," Mullendore said. The body was taken to the medical examiner's office in Baltimore to confirm the initial indication that Wolfe suffered blunt force trauma to the head, Mullendore said.


Sgt. Randy Wilkinson said deputies were following up on the 1975 Buick driven by Eckard when they got a call from Wolfe's brother who was concerned.

"We made a check for well-being at the 15818 Clear Spring Road home of Samuel Wolfe and found the body at 10 p.m. Thursday," Wilkinson said.

Investigator Pete Lazich was continuing his investigation this morning including questioning Eckard, 20, of Marlowe, W.Va., now in custody on $85,000 bond on the chase charges.

A Washington County sheriff's deputy, injured Thursday when his cruiser flipped north of Huyetts Crossroads during the pursuit, has gone home.

Deputy Jeff Cooper was taken to Washington County Hospital, where he was treated and released.

"He's home and he's sore," Mullendore said this morning.

The pursuit began at about 9:30 a.m. Thursday when Hagerstown City Police officers tried to stop a 1975 Buick that had run over a curb in the West End, Capt. Robert Hart said.

Hart said the motorist's driver's license had been suspended because of a failure to appear in court.

Two deputies from the Washington County Sheriff's Department, including Cooper, joined the pursuit after the car left the city limits, officials said.

Sgt. Mark Knight, of the sheriff's department, said Cooper was the fourth police car in the southbound pursuit on Md. 63. His cruiser hydroplaned on the wet roadway, hit a hedge and a mailbox, and flipped on its side over a drainage ditch, Knight said.

Cooper, 31, was wearing his seat belt and both air bags went off, according to Knight. The cage also kept the roof from crushing down on Cooper.

"The seat belt saved him," said Chief Chris Amos with Community Rescue Service.

About 15 rescue and fire personnel from Maugansville Goodwill Volunteer Fire Co. and CRS responded.

Rescue crews had to remove the cruiser's windshield and roof to get Cooper out of the car, officials said.

"It just went off the road and hit the hedge and the bank here and flipped," said Kenneth Gray, 67, who saw the accident in front of his 12703 Greencastle Pike home.

"In about two minutes, cops were everywhere," said Jean Sirokman, 12, who was home when the accident occurred in front of her 12702 Greencastle Pike home.

After the accident, two police cars continued pursuing the Buick while city Patrolman Dwayne Freeman stopped to call in Cooper's accident, Hart said.

About five Maryland State Police troopers joined in the chase. Sgt. Denton Lowry said troopers set up stop sticks south of U.S. 40 on Md. 63, but the car evaded them. He said troopers also laid stop sticks just west of where the car was stopped.

Before the car reached the spot, though, Trooper 1st Class Michael Fluharty, an off-duty officer from the Frederick, Md., barracks, cut off the car. As he was passing on the right side, the car rammed into the cruiser, causing minor damage, Lowry said.

Eckard has been charged with four counts of assault by automobile because he twice swerved, trying to drive city police off the road, Hart said.

City police also charged Eckard with carrying a concealed weapon and several traffic violations, Hart said. The weapons were brass knuckles and a large lock-blade knife, he said.

State police charged Eckard with first- and second-degree assault and malicious destruction of property.

The sheriff's department charged him with first- and second-degree assault.

Staff writer Brendan Kirby contributed to this story.

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