Officer killed in crash of cruisers

Collision in southwest area injures other policeman

May 20, 2006|By GUS G. SENTEMENTES | GUS G. SENTEMENTES,SUN REPORTER

Authorities said it could take days for investigators to determine how two police cruisers collided in a thunderous crash in Southwest Baltimore early yesterday, claiming the life of a veteran officer and injuring another.

The overnight accident just one block from the Southwestern District station house rattled a neighborhood accustomed to seeing cruisers traversing its residential streets, and heaved the city Police Department into mourning.

"I was sleeping, then I heard what sounded like an explosion," said Gabrielle Baboolal, whose house is 50 feet from Stafford Street and Parksley Avenue, where the cruisers hit.

"The police people - they were crying," he said. "It was awful."

Officer Anthony A. Byrd, 31, an 11-year veteran, died at St. Agnes Hospital. He is survived by a wife and two daughters, ages 7 and 9. Officer Raymond E. Cook Jr., 36, a 10-year veteran, was treated and released from Maryland Shock Trauma Center yesterday afternoon.

Paul M. Blair Jr., president of the city's Fraternal Order of Police union, said that fellow officers will "be there for the families."

"It's a great tragedy for the Baltimore FOP and for this fine city of Baltimore," Blair said.

The union president described Cook - who two years ago pulled an officer out of a burning cruiser that had collided with another police vehicle - as "totally devastated."

Yesterday's accident occurred about 2:40 a.m., a short walk from the Font Hill Avenue station house, nestled in a compact community of rowhouses, several of which lost power when the crumpled cruisers slammed into a utility pole.

Hours later, police leaders, the mayor and the union president gathered at downtown police headquarters to break the news to a waking public that Baltimore had lost its second officer in the line of duty in nearly two years.

"Right now, I'm really numb," said Police Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm, looking tired and haggard as he told the grim news to a bank of television cameras at 6 a.m. Byrd, he said, was "a family member who has left us."

Mayor Martin O'Malley ordered city flags flown at half-staff.

"Our officers go out every single day to do one of the toughest jobs in America, and they do it very, very well," O'Malley said. "At times like this, I just hope we appreciate what our officers do."

Hamm said Byrd was the officer-in-charge yesterday and was returning to the station house as Cook responded to back up another officer dealing with a domestic dispute call.

"At the point of collision, one vehicle drove another vehicle into a telephone pole," Hamm said. "Our traffic investigative people are going to try to piece together exactly what happened."

Cook was driving a marked Ford Crown Victoria. Byrd was in a newer vehicle, a marked Chevrolet Impala, which the Police Department began adding to its fleet this year. Police could not say yesterday whether either officer was driving with his lights and sirens activated.

The previous officer to die in the line of duty was also a Southwestern District officer. Officer Brian D. Winder, 36, was shot and killed in July 2004 during a confrontation with a man in a liquor store.

Seven of the past 11 city officers to die in the line of duty involved crashes with vehicles. Two officers were hit by a drunk driver, one was struck by a car being chased by police and one was struck by another officer, according to police.

In all, 118 Baltimore police officers have been killed in the line of duty since 1808, according to the statistics compiled by a nonprofit Officer Down Memorial Page Inc.

George Spry, who lives on Kingsley Avenue near the police station, said he was not surprised by what happened. At the intersection, leaves from a tree shield part of a stop sign on Parksley Avenue. Spry said he frequently sees police and civilian cars speeding through the neighborhood, and he has called city officials to ask for speed bumps. Spry said his requests were denied.

"They drive faster on these streets than they do on I-695," he said.

Byrd lived in Essex, in a fairly new community called WaterView in a two-story, stone-front house with a yard. Yesterday, a city police officer who worked with Byrd stood sentry at the door, allowing the grieving family to mourn in peace.

City officers volunteered to take over the work schedules of Southwestern officers who work the midnight-to-8-a.m. shift to which Cook and Byrd were assigned. "That's always been done," said Blair, the union president, "to give them all a chance to recover."

Byrd joined the Police Department on April 11, 1995, and started working in the Southwestern after graduating from the police academy.

Cook joined the force Feb. 2, 1996, and also began his career in the Southwestern. He is a 1988 graduate of Glenelg High School in Howard County.

Cook has received two Bronze Stars and a lifesaving award. In 1997, he arrested several suspects in an armed robbery. Later, he returned fired and killed a man who had shot at him after a police chase in West Baltimore.

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