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Cruiser crashes during chase

February 06, 1998

by Kevin G. Gilbert / staff photographer

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From staff reports

CLEAR SPRING - A Washington County sheriff's deputy was injured when his cruiser flipped north of Huyetts Crossroads as officers were pursuing a car Thursday morning.

The car being chased was stopped on Interstate 70 about three miles east of Clear Spring.

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

Robert Ray Eckard, 20, Sportsman's Paradise, Marlowe, W.Va., was charged by three police agencies with a number of offenses related to the chase.

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The pursuit began at about 9:30 a.m. 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 charge.

Hart speculated that may have been the reason the driver refused to stop.

"Of course, he's not telling us," he said.

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. He complained of pain in his left arm and head, Knight said.

"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 the ambulance service responded.

Rescue crews had to remove the cruiser's windshield 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, said Hart.

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.

Eckard was being held at the Washington County Detention Center on Thursday night on the following bonds: a $20,000 bond on charges of first and second degree assault and malicious destruction of property; a $40,000 bond on charges of concealing a deadly weapon and four counts each of first- and second-degree assault; a $5,000 bond on charges of driving while suspended and fleeing and eluding; and a $20,000 bond on charges of first- and second-degree assault.

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