Officer injured during transport of healed seal

Pickup truck hits officer on Beltway ramp


A police officer escorting a marine rescue vehicle containing a rehabilitated harp seal was injured yesterday when his motorcycle was hit by a pickup truck on a Baltimore Beltway off-ramp, authorities said.

Officer James Smith, 42, a 13-year veteran of the Baltimore Police Department, was treated at Maryland Shock Trauma Center and released yesterday afternoon, a hospital spokesman said.

A city police spokesman said Smith was conscious and talking after the accident but complained of neck and back injuries.

The accident occurred shortly after 6 a.m. Police officers were escorting the National Aquarium's Marine Animal Rescue team from Baltimore to Ocean City to release a seal named Kola that was found ill on a beach in Delaware, nursed back to health and was being returned to the Atlantic.

Maryland State Trooper Patrick B. Costley, assigned to the Golden Ring Barracks, said Smith had stopped his motorcycle in one of two lanes on the wide off-ramp leading from southbound Interstate 95 onto the eastbound Beltway. The trooper said Smith was sitting on the motorcycle with its lights flashing.

Costley said Paul A. Schaeffer, 72, of Rhode Island, the driver of a 1997 Ford S-250 series pickup truck, apparently was looking left as he pulled onto the ramp and didn't see the motorcycle until it was too late. Costley said the driver told him he was traveling 40 mph when his truck hit the motorcycle.

The city officer was thrown from the motorcycle. Costley said Baltimore and state police were investigating the accident. A portion of I-95 and ramps leading to and from the Beltway were closed for about two hours.

The accident delayed the seal's trip by about an hour. Jenny Yates, a spokeswoman for the aquarium, said Kola - named for a region in Russia known for an abundance of harp seals - arrived at 40th Street in Ocean City about 10:15 a.m. and was safely released into the water. She was transported in a dry crate inside a converted ambulance.

Yates said Kola was found on Bethany Beach on Feb. 8. She said seals typically go ashore but return to the water on their own. This one did not, and after observing it for several days, volunteer rescuers took the seal to the Baltimore aquarium for tests.

Yates said Kola weighed 100 pounds and measured 4 feet long when she was found and suffered from pneumonia and a gastrointestinal bug. Veterinarians treated Kola for two months, during which time the 1-year-old cub grew 4 inches and gained 34 pounds.

The aquarium spokeswoman said police usually escort the marine rescue unit. "Transporting is stressful for the animals," Yates said. Help from police, she said, "is an opportunity for us to get to Ocean City quickly and safely."

Harp seals usually live in climates with ice, such as the Arctic, but Yates said the seals are increasingly being seen in the Mid-Atlantic region.

"We don't know why they are coming down here," Yates said. " ... We are watching the trend."

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