Suspect in tool theft jumps into Potomac to elude police Authorities search waters after plunge off bridge

April 14, 1996|By Ed Heard | Ed Heard,SUN STAFF

Hagerstown authorities will resume their search today for a shoplifting suspect who eluded police Friday night by jumping off a highway bridge into the swift-moving, icy Potomac River.

Police said the man, who is suspected of stealing $800 worth of tools from a Hagerstown Sears store, last was seen in the river minutes after he jumped, heading toward West Virginia, said Cpl. Greg Spickler of the state police barracks in Hagerstown.

The man plunged 50 to 60 feet into the Potomac River from the Interstate 81 bridge near Williamsport, about seven miles from the Hagerstown store, police said.

River conditions were hazardous, with water levels 5 1/2 feet above normal because of rain and melting snow from the Western Maryland and West Virginia mountains. The water temperature was 47 degrees, conducive to hypothermia.

"Why would someone jump from that high unless they were committing suicide?" said John Surrick, a spokesman for the state Department of Natural Resources.

Natural Resources Police searched the river for two hours yesterday but found neither a body nor any sign that the man had crawled onto the West Virginia shore, said Patty Manown, a DNR spokeswoman in Western Maryland.

Police said the man stole tools and other equipment from the Sears store about 7 p.m. Washington County sheriff's officers pursued the suspect in a high-speed car chase.

State Police Cpl. Robert Reid, who was off-duty at the time, saw the suspect's speeding car on southbound I-81 and drove in front of him to slow down. The suspect rammed his station wagon into the rear of Corporal Reid's cruiser twice, then slowed near the shoulder. Police said the suspect climbed out of the passenger-side window of the moving car, ran to an overpass railing and jumped.

"He had no escape route," said Charley West, a spokesman at the Hagerstown barracks. "He would be taken into custody, or it was overboard."

Police had little information about the suspect last night. They said they found the stolen tools and other equipment inside the suspect's 1982 Chevrolet Cavalier station wagon.

Pub Date: 4/14/96

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