Officer dies in crash near Bay Bridge

Pickup truck rams his cruiser stopped on shoulder of U.S. 50

10-year veteran was decorated 3 times

July 21, 2004|By Liz F. Kay and Lester J. Davis | Liz F. Kay and Lester J. Davis,SUN STAFF

A Maryland Transportation Authority police officer who received his department's top honor three times, died yesterday afternoon after a pickup truck smashed his cruiser from behind on Route 50 west of the Bay Bridge.

Officer Duke G. Aaron III was struck about 10 a.m. while sitting in his cruiser on the right shoulder of westbound Route 50 near St. Margarets Road after issuing a traffic citation, said Catherine Leahan, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Transportation Authority.

Both Aaron and the truck's driver were flown to Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore as authorities shut down westbound lanes of the main artery across the Bay Bridge, backing up traffic by as much as 10 miles.

Aaron went into cardiac arrest at 11:40 a.m., said Dr. Thomas M. Scalea, chief of physicians at Shock Trauma. Doctors stabilized him and brought him to the operating room, but he died at 1:02 p.m.

"He was just an outstanding young man, someone I'm proud to call one of my officers," said transportation police Chief Gary W. McLhinney, who joined law enforcement officers and Aaron's family at the hospital yesterday.

The Pasadena resident -- who celebrated his 29th birthday July 5 -- was a 10-year veteran of the force recognized for his dedication to his work. Aaron had been named the department's Officer of the Year three times -- in 2001, 2002 and 2003. Transportation authority officials also said he once prevented a woman from committing suicide at the Bay Bridge.

"Kendel and I are shocked and saddened by this tragic news," said Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in a statement. "Officer Aaron represented the finest Maryland's law enforcement community has to offer."

McLhinney said that the driver of the pickup truck, an Eastern Shore man, was not seriously injured, but he did not identify him, adding that charges are pending.

Police are investigating

Transportation police are investigating to determine the circumstances of the accident, including how fast the vehicle that struck him was traveling and whether alcohol was involved.

The other driver "has an extensive driving record in the state of Maryland, and he should not have been on the road," McLhinney said. Authorities did not release details about the driver's record yesterday.

If charges are brought, the case would be heard in Anne Arundel County.

McLhinney stressed the hazardous working conditions transportation police officers face.

"It's an extremely dangerous job, and unfortunately there are people on the roads who have no business being out there," McLhinney said.

That reality was clear to Aaron's neighbor Sharon K. Brown, who saw officers pull up to his home yesterday morning. She started to worry when she heard about the accident on the morning news because "we knew there [weren't] a lot of officers that worked the same shift."

Aaron "always wanted to be a police officer," said Brown, who has known Aaron since he moved into Pasadena's Jacobsville neighborhood in 2000. "That's all he talked about. He just liked everything about it."

Family members at the house were too distraught last night to talk to reporters.

Neighbors described Aaron as a soft-spoken and friendly man devoted to his wife, Jennifer. He would decorate his beige duplex for every holiday and recently put in a pool and built a deck, Brown said. Aaron also loved cars and could often be found working on his F150 pickup or Corvette.

The fun-loving man who had no children of his own would often ride all-terrain vehicles and his Harley Davidson mini-chopper, as well as play video or other games with young people in the neighborhood. Brown said Aaron often played chess with her 16-year-old son, Ricky.

"Teenagers really liked him," Brown said. "He watched out for them and gave them good advice."

Jarrod Jenkins, 20, said he met Aaron when the officer moved to the neighborhood.

"He was just a big kid," said Jenkins, adding that Aaron and other young men spent a lot of time at one another's homes and in the neighborhood. "He loved to have fun."

When he heard about the accident, Jenkins called Aaron's cell phone and left a message, telling him how worried everyone was.

Neighbor Mike Shankle also made similar calls whenever he heard there was an accident on the bridge.

`I knew it was him'

"When I came home and saw my neighbors' faces, I knew it was him," he said after yesterday morning's reports about the accident.

Shankle described Aaron as patriotic and a man of good judgment.

Annapolis lawyer Drew Cochran said he knew him from a few court hearings. "He was a nice guy, a straight shooter, honest," Cochran said.

Aaron was the fourth Maryland Transportation Authority officer killed in the line of duty, including one directing traffic on the Bay Bridge. In 1991, Officer Thomas R. Crouch, 52, was struck by a driver as he set out cones on the eastbound lanes.

Sun staff writers Andrea F. Siegel, Jamie Stiehm and Ryan Davis contributed to this article.

Officer Duke G. Aaron III

Age: 29

Career: 10-year veteran of the Maryland Transportation Authority Police.

Commendations: MdTA Officer of the Year, 2001, 2002, 2003.

Family: Married to Jennifer Aaron, no children.

Residence: Jacobsville neighborhood of Pasadena.

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