Investigation offers little insight into crash that killed officer

No vehicle failure, medical condition uncovered in Portz's death

  • 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…)
November 30, 2010|By Justin Fenton, The Baltimore Sun

The investigation into the death of Baltimore Officer Thomas Portz Jr., who died last month when his police cruiser crashed into the back of a parked firetruck in West Baltimore, has yielded no new clues into what caused the accident, according to police.

Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said crash investigators have ruled out a mechanical problem with his vehicle, and an autopsy uncovered no underlying medical condition such as a heart attack as factors in the Oct. 20 crash.

Portz, a 32-year-old New York native who had worked in the city's Western District, became the first officer to die in the line of duty since 2007.

Authorities said a firetruck, dispatched for a report of an injured person, pulled over on eastbound U.S. 40 to ask members of a film crew working on a closed-down portion of the street whether they had seen anything.

Portz, who was also responding to the call, struck the back of the truck with his vehicle at a high rate of speed, officials said. There were no skid marks behind the car indicating that it had braked, and police said they can only speculate as to what caused him to lose focus on the road.

"Modern-day police investigations have taken us as far as they can," Guglielmi said. "There's just some things we'll never be able to do. The family and the commissioner would love closure, but we've gone through every shred of evidence."

Fire Chief James Clack said firefighters never did locate an injured person, though he said that was not uncommon for such calls. Some had questioned whether the film crew might have prompted or been the source of the call, but Guglielmi said investigators found "nothing suspicious."

In a statement, the Portz family said they were thankful for the outpouring of support.

"It's comforting to know that Tommy meant so much to so many people," the statement said. "Even with this tragic loss, we are finding solace in the tremendous outpouring of support from the citizens and business owners of Baltimore along with law enforcement agencies across the country.

"We know that Tommy would be honored and humbled by your support. Please continue to keep Tommy in your thoughts and prayers."

When he died, Portz, a personal friend and hockey teammate of Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III, was the third active city officer killed within a matter of weeks.

Officer James Fowler died after losing control of his vehicle while driving to Pennsylvania for training, and Detective Brian Stevenson was killed after a man threw a piece of concrete at his head during an off-duty argument in Canton.

On Wednesday, the Police Department will dedicate the entrance to the Northeast District in Stevenson's memory.

justin.fenton@baltsun.com



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