Police recover very hot wheels

Fire convention-goer charged after chase of Ocean City engine

Pumper badly damaged

June 19, 2000|By Neal Thompson | Neal Thompson,SUN STAFF

What occurred yesterday morning in Ocean City as their annual state convention got under way might prompt volunteer firefighters to add a new workshop next year:

"What to do when someone takes your $360,000 fire engine."The latest tale of summer weirdness at the shore began just before dawn yesterday. An ambulance crew returning from an emergency in Berlin was crossing the U.S. 50 bridge into Ocean City when it spotted a fire engine that shares its station house headed in the opposite direction. When the ambulance driver radioed headquarters to ask where the engine was headed, the response was: What engine?

After a 45-mile chase on the Eastern Shore, police arrested a 35-year-old man who belongs to a fire-company social club in Pennsylvania. Ocean City Police charged James M. Daniels, 35, of East Conemaugh, with burglary, motor vehicle theft, theft, reckless endangerment, leaving the scene of an accident, driving on a suspended license, reckless driving and other traffic violations.

State police added charges of fleeing and eluding police, speeding and negligent driving. Daniels was being held by Ocean City police pending an arraignment before a District Court commissioner.

While the ambulance crew was out on a call, someone broke into Station House 3 at 74th Street and fired up Engine Number 4, a 1996 pumper, police said.

The truck headed south on Coastal Highway and across the U.S. 50 bridge, smacking the median along the way.

Once police realized the pumper was missing, a swarm of patrol cars from Ocean City, Wicomico County, Salisbury and the state police gave chase.

Heading west on U.S. 50, the engine reached speeds of 90 mph, police said.

State police set up a roadblock at the Nanticoke River bridge outside Vienna, about 45 miles west of Ocean City. They placed "stop sticks," devices with tire-puncturing spikes, across the highway.

The pumper's driver tried to steer around the roadblock, lost control and slammed into guardrails, highway signs and light poles before the engine came to rest against a guardrail at 6:20 a.m.

Initially, fire officials said Daniels was not affiliated with the convention.

But last night, Ocean City police said Daniels belonged to the Conemaugh Fire Club, a social club whose members are firefighters and civilians. Daniels is a member of the club, but is not a firefighter, Ocean City Police spokesman Jay Hancock said.The fire engine sustained extensive damage. "It looks pretty ugly," said Steve Price, a spokesman for the Ocean City Volunteer Fire Department.

Just as ugly was the timing of the incident. The 108th annual Maryland Fireman's Convention and Conference began this weekend and runs all week. A gouged and twisted heap of chrome and red metal was not supposed to be an early attraction.

Ocean City's Fire Department has 125 members and 32 vehicles at six stations. The department handles 1,500 calls a year.

This was the first time someone has stolen one of its vehicles.

"We are absolutely shaking our heads," Price said.

"It's a pretty bizarre story and we're still all sitting here at headquarters wondering what the heck is going on here."

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