Fuel-laden tanker hijacked from Curtis Bay, emptied

October 20, 2007|By Gus G. Sentementes and Kelly Brewington | Gus G. Sentementes and Kelly Brewington,Sun reporters

For eight hours yesterday, city, state and federal law enforcement officials mounted a multistate search for a hijacked tanker loaded with 7,100 gallons of diesel fuel.

Authorities doubted terrorism was afoot in South Baltimore, but -- in this post-Sept. 11 era -- couldn't be too careful, particularly in a city so close to the nation's capital.

By midafternoon, after authorities flashed alerts across the Interstate 95 corridor, the tanker was found abandoned -- and emptied -- on a street in southeast Washington near Bolling Air Force Base. Police were searching last night for the man who held up the driver at gunpoint and stole the 18-wheeler.

The tanker was stolen about 5 a.m. from a fuel depot in South Baltimore's Curtis Bay neighborhood.

Sterling Clifford, a Baltimore Police Department spokesman, said detectives found no evidence that the incident was related to a terrorist plot.

"Obviously, [when] a tanker goes missing, there's some risk associated with that," Clifford said. "But we don't have any reason to believe that this particular truck theft is terrorism-related. Diesel is expensive, and expensive things get stolen sometimes."

With the cost of fuel on the rise, there have been scattered reports around the county over the past year of thefts of diesel fuel and the tankers that carry it. But Baltimore police said thefts of tankers in the city are rare.

The incident occurred at Central Point Terminal in the 3100 block of Vera St, a fuel-loading facility. Plastered to the gates are signs instructing drivers on the series of codes required to enter. One sign reads, "All Visitors Must Report to Office Immediately!"

The driver, whose name was not released, had finished filling the tanker and was getting back into the truck when a man came out of the sleeper section of the cab, pointed a handgun at him and forced him out of the truck, police said. The robber drove away, heading toward Interstate 95, police said.

By early yesterday morning, city police had alerted other local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, as well as police agencies in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., of the theft. The fuel is not highly combustible on its own, but it has been used to create bombs when mixed with other ingredients, such as ammonium nitrate.

The tanker is owned by Baltimore Tank Lines Inc. of Glen Burnie. An official at the company's headquarters declined to comment yesterday.

At the fuel depot in South Baltimore, Dave Gunning, a driver for Baltimore Tank Lines who lives in Pasadena, was unfazed.

"People were all scared, thinking it was terrorism, but it couldn't have been," he said. "It was just some guy with a scheme.

"With 7,100 gallons, at $2 per gallon wholesale, that's $14,000. Not bad," he said. "I'm sure he's got it all set up somewhere. Question is, where could he hide it?"

gus.sentementes@baltsun.com

kelly.brewington@baltsun.com

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