All northbound lanes of Interstate 95 in Howard County were shut down for more than seven hours yesterday, diverting thousands of motorists, as authorities dealt with the gruesome aftermath of a body that was struck by several passing vehicles, none of which stopped in the pre-dawn darkness.
The remains were so badly mangled that police could not immediately discern the body's race or gender or determine a cause of death. It is not known whether the person was a pedestrian hit and killed on the road, was pushed from a vehicle or was killed first and dumped on the road.
No unattended vehicle was found at the scene, apparently ruling out a motorist with car trouble being struck.
"We're treating this as a homicide investigation until we know why the person was where they were," said Maryland State Police 1st Sgt. Russell Newell.
The body was found on the interstate - a major north-south corridor that carries 200,000 motorists on a typical workday - between Routes 175 and 100 in Elkridge.
Police closed the northbound lanes of the highway shortly before 5 a.m., and more than 40 cadets from the Maryland State Police training academy were brought in to retrieve human remains, which were spread across a quarter-mile stretch of the road.
Newell described the scene as "gruesome."
"They did find various body parts," he said.
Southbound lanes were not closed, but traffic slowed as passing motorists viewed the scene.
Police said several vehicles apparently struck the body in the darkness and did not stop. As of last night, investigators had been able to reach one witness who called police with information and were asking other motorists who had driven on the stretch of highway between 4:30 a.m. and 5 a.m. to call them.
"I'm sure that there are other people out there who didn't realize that they witnessed something," Newell said. "It was dark, and they probably thought they hit a bump, pot hole or a deer."
Anyone with information is asked to call the state police Waterloo barracks at 410-799-2101.
The area has been the scene of an unusual number of serious accidents in recent days. A crash at the Route 175 exit ramp left two teens dead and sent a third to a hospital Friday. Three more people were flown to Maryland Shock Trauma Center yesterday after an accident at the intersection of Routes 175 and 108 around 5:30 a.m.
The final northbound lanes on I-95 did not open until 1 p.m., when police were confident they had recovered all the remains. Such lengthy shutdowns are rare for investigative purposes, said Dave Buck of the State Highway Administration.
The last time I-95 shut down for such a long time was when a gasoline tanker exploded in Prince George's County the day before Thanksgiving last year, ripping apart the asphalt and forcing work crews to repave the road.
Bob Lande, who lives in Columbia, said his 40-minute commute to Baltimore took more than two hours yesterday.
Lande, who works at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health/Center for Communication Programs, began his trip by getting onto eastbound Route 32 from Cedar Lane. "It [Route 32] was already backed up," Lande said.
He said traffic was "creeping along" as he proceeded onto northbound I-95. However, all lanes were shut down at Route 175. Once on Route 175 eastbound, Lande tried to get onto northbound U.S. 1, but that also was blocked.
Lande stayed eastbound on Route 175 and went north on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway.