The Case Of The Dangling I-70 Sign

Crime Scenes

August 27, 2009|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Peter.hermann@baltsun.com

Maryland State Police say a dump truck hit an overhead sign on Interstate 70, and the driver kept going. The most serious of three traffic infractions handed to Alvin J. Hall 3rd charges him with leaving the scene of an accident with property damage.

If found guilty, the 49-year-old Glen Burnie man could spend up to a year in jail, be fined $3,000 and get 12 points on his license, enough for an on-the-spot revocation.

The sign, 75 feet long, spanned three lanes and two shoulders of the eastbound portion of the highway and hung from steel posts and beams about a mile west of the Baltimore Beltway interchange. After it was hit on the morning of Aug. 15, the sign dangled precariously over the highway.

More than 50 motorists dialed 911, and state police shut down several miles of the interstate for five hours until highway workers could get a crane to help move the damaged sign to the right shoulder of the road.

This was no ordinary sign and no ordinary accident. Even if you weren't caught in the traffic jam, you're going to pay for this. The cost to taxpayers to repair the damage to the sign and two steel supports, according to state highway officials: $100,000.

Such a whopping price tag required a serious investigation.

But when Trooper J.D. Uhler, a 12-year veteran, came to work the next morning at the Golden Ring barracks, "All I had was a sign that had been destroyed by an unknown vehicle."

Not much to go on.

He first went to the highway, studied the sign, took pictures of it and found aluminum scuff marks that, he surmised, were consistent with the top of the raised bed of a dump truck hitting the bottom of an elevated sign. With the help of a dispatcher, the trooper listened to motorists who dialed 911 on that Saturday morning.

Only one person had left a name.

That caller told Uhler that he remembered seeing a truck with a name "CM Loads," but the trooper couldn't find any such business. He put his cruiser on the side of I-70 and for hours watched trucks heading east and west. Finally, he followed a group to a quarry in Timonium.

There, he saw a truck with the name "CM Laois" written on the side.

The manager of the quarry confirmed that trucks from that company had brought in loads of rocks on Saturday between 5:55 a.m. and 9:45 a.m. "I thought I must be onto something," Uhler said.

He followed the truck to Mitchellville in Prince George's County, where the next day other troopers learned that the company had a truck in its garage. The Thursday after the accident, Uhler said, he contacted the owner, who let him inspect a truck at the company's other office, in Hanover in northern Anne Arundel County.

"We determined that the vehicle had recent repairs to the cap over the roof of the truck," Uhler said. "The owner admitted to taking the truck down to a welding company in Severn. The owner there told us that he was told the truck bed had been raised up in a barn and the damage came that way."

The next day, Uhler met with the driver and cited him with three traffic offenses. His court date is pending.

Neither Hall nor the owner of CM Laois could be reached for comment. Hall told Uhler that he "felt a couple bumps" as he drove under the sign and that he realized his truck was heavily damaged when he arrived at the quarry.

Uhler said he suspects a cover on top of the dump truck came loose and snagged lights that hang from the bottom of the sign, and when the driver felt a drag, he panicked and hit a switch that raised the bed of the truck, striking the sign.

The trooper said the truck driver was hardly speeding - "he was going less than 5 mph."

A spokeswoman for the Maryland State Highway Administration said there is no timetable for repairs. The high cost requires the state to put the project out to bid.

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