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Hagerstown man was working at rest stop

October 25, 2002|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

Larry Blank parked right next to the most wanted blue 1990 Chevrolet Caprice in the nation without even realizing it.

Blank, 52, of Hagerstown, arrived at the Interstate 70 rest stop near Myersville, Md., for his regular midnight custodial work shift, pulling next to a car in which two men slept.

"Nothing unusual," Blank said.

An hour later, Blank's shift turned out to be far from usual.

Blank found himself swept up in a Ford Econoline van for two hours watching the van's driver - whom he didn't know - speak to police about the car the man had recognized as belonging to the suspects in the Washington area sniper shootings.

At the start of his shift, Blank checked into the rest stop office where he heard chatter over the police scanner about a neighboring eastbound rest area. Blank decided to investigate his westbound rest area instead.

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Once Blank stepped outside the office he noticed westbound I-70 had been closed to traffic since he arrived. He could see the entrance and exit ramps to his rest area had been blocked.

Blank said that at about 1 a.m. he was drawn away from the car parking lot at the rest area to the nearby truck parking lot where a refrigeration van he recognized was parked awkwardly. He approached the van and the man inside told him to get in because the police were trying to close in on the Chevrolet Caprice.

Blank said the man, whom he described as calm but worried, held a cell phone to his ear for two hours. He complained to Blank he was tired and had to use the restroom.

"We tried to figure out who was going to last the longest," he said.

Blank also got on the cell phone with police to tell them what he knew about the layout of the rest area.

He said if he had left the rest area office and not heard the scanner chatter he may have gone around to the three other cars in the parking lot to check for "undesirables."

"I'm glad I didn't 'cause if I shot my flashlight in on them they might have shot me," Blank said.

Blank said he and the van driver watched as more police and SWAT team members arrived at 3 a.m. and closed in on the car, which was too far away for them to see clearly from the truck parking lot.

He said FBI helicopters were landing in nearby Myersville.

"We were a little nervous, hoping it would be the people they were looking for," he said.

Blank said the van driver originally was parked in the car parking lot, but called the police and drove over to the truck parking lot before Blank arrived.

Blank, of 100 Buena Vista Ave., is married and has four children. He has been employed with Goodwill Industries as a custodian for three years.

Blank's duties include keeping the rest stop clean, handling customer service and monitoring traffic at the rest stop, said April Jensen, CEO of Goodwill Industries of Monocacy Valley, which holds the rest stop's maintenance contract.

He and others who maintain rest stops aren't trained to respond to such emergency situations, but they are trained to be observant and keep safety in mind, Jensen said.

Blank downplayed his part in the events leading to the arrests.

"I played a very small role," he said.

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