Police officer dies after crash with firetruck

Officers, city officials gather at Shock Trauma; firefighters not seriously hurt

  • A police officer died after his cruiser rear-ended a firetruck on eastbound U.S. 40 in West Baltimore.
A police officer died after his cruiser rear-ended a firetruck… (Leroy Davis, Special to…)
October 20, 2010|By Justin Fenton and Peter Hermann, The Baltimore Sun

A Baltimore police officer died and four firefighters were taken to a local hospital Wednesday after the officer's car rear-ended a parked fire engine on U.S. 40, officials said.

Officer Tommy Portz, a 10-year veteran and married father of three, was pronounced dead while being taken to Maryland Shock Trauma Center, officials said. The 32-year-old is the third active city officer killed in less than a month.

Fire Chief James Clack said that Engine 8 was dispatched to a report of an injured person in the median area of Calhoun and Franklin streets but could not locate a patient. Firefighters observed a film crew working in the road and stopped to ask if they had seen anything.

That's when Portz's vehicle ran into the fire engine at a high rate of speed, causing significant front-end damage, Clack said. There were no skid marks behind the car to indicate that he had braked.

The unit production manager for the film crew, Eric Bannat, said the impact of the crash was so loud that he thought a car had fallen off the overpass. The key grip, Eddie Hohman, saw the accident, raced to the cruiser and forced open the door.

Clack said firefighters never did locate an injured person, though he said that was not uncommon for such emergency calls. The firefighters who were injured in the crash suffered only "bumps and bruises," he said.

Portz, a New York native who lived in Pennsylvania, was assigned to the Western District patrol unit. He was a friend and longtime hockey teammate of Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III, who was too distraught to take part in a news briefing.

"Officer Portz was known to all of us, a really lovable guy," said Anthony Guglielmi, the department's chief spokesman. "He was very funny, had a great sense of humor."

Schuyler Denham, a retired police sergeant, supervised Portz when he came on as a rookie and said he was "soft-spoken, polite and came to care a lot about the city."

"He was very concerned about the community and took patrol work seriously," Denham said.

On Monday morning, the film crew was recording what is to be the final scene for an independent movie called "The Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best," a comedy about band members who are kicked out of a group and then tour the country.

They were preparing for a retake when the accident occurred in the eastbound lane of the highway, Bannat said, about 40 to 50 yards from where his crew had just stopped filming.

Debbie Dorsey, the director of the film office for the Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts, said the film crew had all the necessary permits and was working with the city on their shoots. She noted that the section of U.S. 40 they were using has been closed for weeks. She also said off-duty Baltimore police officers were providing security and were at the location when the accident occurred.

"They did everything the right way," Dorsey said.

Portz becomes the third active officer to be killed in the past month, and the first in the line of duty since 2007. Officer James Fowler, who was a member of the accident investigation team, died Sept. 27 in a single-vehicle accident while driving to a training seminar in Pennsylvania.

On Saturday, off-duty Detective Brian Stevenson was killed after being struck in the head with a piece of concrete during an off-duty argument over a parking spot. Stevenson's funeral is set for Monday.

"How much more can this department take?" asked one officer who was not authorized to speak to the media.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake called Portz's death a "tragedy for the entire city" and asked residents to keep his family in their prayers.

Officers gathered at the hospital, consoling each other outside the entrance to the trauma center. At one point, a burly officer turned away from the group, grabbed hold of a nearby vehicle and broke into tears.



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