Shots fired near State House as state police chase truck

Fleeing suspect tries to run down troopers before he crashes

March 13, 2002|By Laura Barnhardt, Amanda J. Crawford and Michael Dresser | Laura Barnhardt, Amanda J. Crawford and Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Police chasing a driver in a seafood truck fired shots near the State House yesterday, forcing lobbyists and office workers to duck for cover - and leaving one government building with a bullet in its front door.

During the chase - which started in Annapolis' Eastport neighborhood, where the truck repeatedly rammed a state police cruiser before barreling into the city's historic district - the truck's driver tried to run down a state trooper near the governor's mansion, authorities said.

After chasing the seafood truck through the capital and north to Glen Burnie, police finally stopped the driver when a cruiser crashed into the truck.

Five troopers suffered minor injuries in the chase, which covered about 15 miles. An Eastern Shore man was arrested and charged with first- and second-degree assault, unauthorized use of a vehicle and numerous traffic violations. Police said the man was unarmed but was high on crack cocaine as he smashed into patrol cars during the 20-minute chase. He was not injured.

Lobbyist Ellen Valentino-Benitez said she was walking on Lawyers' Mall near the State House when the truck's driver sped past with a dozen police cars in pursuit. She heard shots and dived into the bushes near the governor's mansion. She said state police ushered her inside, where she waited until it was safe to leave.

"It was clearly like a movie," she said, her face flushed and a scratch on her cheek. "I'm really shaken up."

The incident prompted one lawmaker to suggest that traffic be steered away from the legislative complex in Annapolis.

"I don't know any other statehouse in the nation where all the traffic - whether they're going to buy some baby diapers or whether they're really going to do something very important - just has to come by the statehouse," Senate Majority Leader Clarence W. Blount said before closing yesterday's session. "It would be nice to look at it so you can feel safe as you walk between here and Lawyers' Mall and to your office."

The chase began about 10:45 a.m., police said, after a report that a truck had been taken by an employee without permission from Bay's Best Seafood in Grasonville. Two troopers saw the truck parked behind the Eastport Shopping Center and walked toward it.

The truck swerved around the troopers and pulled behind a Waste Management truck at a stop sign. There, about a half-dozen state troopers with guns drawn surrounded the seafood truck and repeatedly ordered the driver to get out, witnesses say.

The driver - later identified by police as Todd Kenneth Woody, 32, of Queenstown - allegedly began ramming the utility truck. The driver of that truck, Michael Rosenberger, said his vehicle was rammed at least twice by the seafood truck, which also repeatedly struck a police cruiser behind it.

The seafood truck moved the cruiser about four feet, giving the driver enough clearance to escape, said Robert F. Lilley Jr. of Annapolis, who watched from a nearby gas station.

The seafood truck then drove onto the sidewalk between Rosenberger's truck and a utility pole, flattening the stop sign and nearly running over a state trooper who had broken the truck's window and tried to grab the suspect, according to police and witnesses.

At that point, Trooper Scania Roach fired several shots at the driver, police said, as the truck sped across Spa Creek, past the City Dock and around the State House complex.

As the white truck came around Bladen Street between the Lowe House Office building and the Legislative Services building, a trooper who had gotten ahead of the truck tried to put "stop sticks" in the road. State police said the driver nearly ran over the officer.

The trooper, Charles Harvey, responded by firing his .40-caliber Beretta, police said.

Workers on the second floor of the Department of Legislative Services building hit the deck as shots rang out.

"When you hear shots, you kind of know it's not a car backfiring," said the department's director, Karl Aro.

One bullet struck the door of the College Avenue entrance to the Lowe House Office building. A security guard on the other side of the door broke down in tears after learning how close she had come to being shot.

Susan K. Jacobson, a State House information specialist, said she was waiting for a school tour group with co-workers at the bus stop outside the Legislative Services building when the seafood truck sped past on College Avenue.

She heard the gunfire, saying, "It was a little closer than I'd like to be to people shooting guns."

Jacobson said a bus full of children from Old Court Middle School pulled up just minutes later. Security officers, she said, "ran them right into the building."

The truck's tires jumped the curb, and the truck sideswiped a police cruiser several times as the chase continued up Bladen Street.

Lt. Col. William Arrington, chief of the state police field operations bureau, said troopers were justified in firing their weapons each of the half-dozen times they did so - even in the crowded historic district.

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