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State trooper from county was first at scene

October 25, 2002|by MARLO BARNHART

By MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

For several tense minutes early Thursday, Maryland State Police Trooper 1st Class D.W. Smith stood alone with a shotgun outside his cruiser at the westbound Interstate 70 rest area, just in case the occupants of a car linked to a series of sniper attacks tried to leave.

"Knowing I was the first one there, I decided to cover the exit," Smith said.

He drove the wrong way up the ramp just after 1 a.m. and waited for backup to arrive.

Smith, an 18-year veteran trooper stationed in Washington County, said he positioned his cruiser across the driveway between two rows of tractor-trailers to block the car's exit path.

Two troopers from Frederick County joined him shortly and together they maintained a vigil in the darkness as other officers prepared to approach the car. Shortly after 3 a.m., two suspects in the car were taken into custody.

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Smith, who was working the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift, said everything was routine until he got an urgent call on his radio around 1 a.m.

"I was on routine patrol on Md. 66 at I-70 when I was told to call the barracks on my cell phone immediately." Smith said.

When he called, he learned a witness had spotted the suspects' car in the rest area on South Mountain.

Smith was just three minutes away.

At the start of his shift, Smith said he was aware that police in Montgomery County had released a description of the 1990 Chevrolet Caprice and the New Jersey license tag, saying the vehicle was being sought in the sniper investigation.

"There were times when some of the tractor-trailers wanted to leave the rest area, but we made them stay," Smith said.

For one thing, the troopers wanted to make sure the suspects hadn't commandeered one of the trucks in an attempt to slip away, Smith said.

The drivers were ordered out of their rigs and the troopers searched the cabs thoroughly, Smith said. The trucks were further detained to bolster the roadblock already created by the three cruisers, Smith said.

"For a while, I crawled under one of the tractor-trailers and positioned myself on my stomach in case they tried to run up the ramp," Smith said. "I was there doing that for about 40 minutes."

Smith and other police officers remained at the scene well into the daylight hours after the two men were taken into custody.

"I was there from a little after 1 a.m. until 7 a.m.," Smith said.

For the last few hours, Smith was helping deal with the media and onlookers.

At one point, Smith said he heard activity in the woods surrounding the rest area.

"I yelled at them and then I didn't hear any more," Smith said.

When he got home Thursday morning, Smith said, he saw on television that an amateur video had been shot from the wooded area. He figures that may have been the person to whom he was yelling.

"It was very dangerous to be in those woods. That person could have gotten shot," Smith said.

While Smith never got close to the suspects' car Thursday morning, he said he had time to think about the danger that might have been behind every tree at the rest area.

"It could have been an ambush for the police since the witness said he couldn't see anyone inside the car," Smith said.

Smith said he has had some memorable experiences in law enforcement.

"This one will rank right up there," he said.

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