Officer dies after fire at gas station Pickup hit pump, exploded as he was fueling vehicle

Glen Burnie man charged

Driver told police his prosthetic leg caused loss of control

September 28, 1997|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore County police officer who was engulfed in flames Friday night after a pickup truck careened into a Linthicum gas station as he was filling his tank died yesterday afternoon at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.

Two Glen Burnie men identified by authorities as the driver and passenger of the pickup truck -- who fled on foot after the crash -- were in custody yesterday, one held on hit-and-run charges and the other being questioned by Anne Arundel County police.

The victim was identified as Officer Curtis G. Morsberger, 49, of Finksburg, a 30-year veteran of the department.

The man charged, James Francis Reese Jr., 33, of the 900 block of Andrews Road, told police that his prosthetic right leg fell off as he was driving a borrowed 1984 Ford pickup truck, and that he tried to slow down by hitting a curb in the 700 block of Hammonds Ferry Road.

Police said Morsberger's wife and other relatives were sitting in his Jeep Cherokee when the crash occurred just before 9 p.m. Morsberger died at 1: 30 p.m. from burns over 90 percent of his body, police said.

Reese was charged with leaving the scene of an accident and failing to administer aid, according to Sgt. William Krampf, a spokesman for Anne Arundel police.

Krampf said the case was being reviewed by the county state's attorney's office and that other charges were possible. "This was a serious accident and a police officer was killed," Krampf said.

The truck -- which ran a red light at the intersection of Hammonds Ferry and Nursery roads -- jumped a curb and ran into the gas pump at Hammonds Ferry Citgo where Morsberger was fueling his vehicle, police said.

The impact touched off an explosion and fire fueled by spraying gasoline that burned Morsberger, destroyed both vehicles and charred an overhead canopy.

Police said the four passengers in Morsberger's Jeep escaped unharmed.

A bystander -- whose name was not divulged by the police yesterday -- used his shirt to smother the flames engulfing Morsberger.

"The truck was going fast enough to knock over the pump," Krampf said. "I don't know how those pumps are anchored, but it ripped it right out of the ground."

Police said the passenger in the pickup truck -- identified yesterday as Colby Foster, 26, of the 1000 block of Thomas Road -- was found a short time later about a quarter-mile away, behind a fast food restaurant on Nursery Road.

Although Foster was being questioned, no charge had been lodged against him, Krampf said, noting that Maryland law calls only for charges against the driver who leaves an accident scene.

Police said Reese had left his driver's license at the Citgo station earlier in the evening in exchange for a gas can -- apparently because the truck had run out of fuel, Krampf said.

Reese was arrested at 9:30 a.m. yesterday when a police officer saw him walking along Baltimore and Annapolis Boulevard near the Central Light Rail overpass, Krampf said.

Because of the passage of time since the accident, police did not administer tests for blood alcohol level, Krampf said.

Reese also was wanted on a warrant for violating probation, Krampf said.

Neighbors several hundred yards away from the gas station said the explosion rattled their windows.

Morsberger, a desk officer at the Woodlawn Precinct in recent years, was off duty and visiting a brother at the time of the incident, authorities said.

"He was dedicated -- dedicated enough to stay for 30 years when he could have [retired] after 20," said his supervisor, Lt. Donald Collins.

Friends and relatives said Morsberger -- the father of three children, sons 22 and 14, and a daughter 18 -- was a caring man who thought more about others than himself.

Doris Kleinfelter, a neighbor on Doe Drive in Finksburg, said Morsberger helped her family in small ways, such as mowing the grass when her husband, Harry, became ill.

When her husband could no longer tend his garden, Morsberger delivered bags of tomatoes and squash to them every week.

"He cared for others more than himself," said Kleinfelter, 65. "That's about all I can say about him."

Morsberger's father-in-law, Rosario Glorioso, 89, said the officer always took care of him.

"He took me to the doctor, put my medicine in containers for me," Glorioso said. "He helped everybody, especially me."

Pub Date: 9/28/97

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