An unidentified man stopped his truck at the site of a Howard County public works project Friday and hurled a racial epithet at a predominantly black work crew, then returned minutes later to berate them again, Howard County police said yesterday.
Six men were fixing a broken water line on Montgomery Road near Washington Boulevard in Elkridge about 5 p.m. when a white man in his 30s driving a Toyota truck stopped and began screaming at the crew to work harder, said Thaddeus Mitchell Jr., 35, the crew leader, who reported the incident to police.
The man used a racial slur as he ordered the crew to get into the large hole at the site and return to work, said Mitchell of the 4600 block of Luerssen Ave. in Baltimore.
Mitchell, who is black, said the crew was shutting down a valve at the time.
"He was really screaming at the top of his lungs," Mitchell said yesterday. "The way he looked, I thought he could have easily gotten violent. I didn't want anyone in my crew to get hurt."
The man left, then returned minutes later and began yelling again.
Mitchell gave police a description of the man and the license number of the truck.
Passers-by often comment to workers, he said, but most ask what they are doing or when the work will be completed.
Officers were trying to find the truck's owner, said Sgt. Steven Keller, a Howard County police spokesman.
Harassment on the basis of race is punishable by up to three years in prison and a $5,000 fine, Keller said.
Under state law, harassment of any kind -- which sometimes includes verbal abuse -- based on race, creed, religion or national origin is a misdemeanor.