By Timothy B. Wheeler and Ian Duncan
The Baltimore Sun
BALTIMORE — A city tow-truck driver was knocked 25 feet off the Jones Falls Expressway on Friday and a police officer was injured in a pair of afternoon rush-hour crashes that involved a water rescue of the victim who'd fallen into the storm-swollen stream below, police said.
The two victims were still being treated at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center Saturday morning.
The incident, which shut down the southbound lanes of Interstate 83 for about two hours, occurred near the Pepsi sign, not far from where another accident two years ago knocked a police officer off the northbound side of the highway, severely injuring her.
About 6:15 p.m., a Northern District police officer was investigating a single-vehicle SUV crash in the southbound lanes of the JFX, said Detective Jeremy Silbert, a police spokesman.
A Baltimore City tow-truck came to help pull the SUV away when a second SUV struck the first one, police said.
The police officer was hit and the tow-truck driver, who was outside his vehicle, was knocked over the concrete wall lining the highway. The man fell about 25 feet onto a grassy island in the Jones Falls, which was surging with runoff from tropical storm rainfall.
Six police officers responding to the accident went to the aid of the injured officer and scaled down the JFX, where they waded into waist-deep water to reach the civilian, Silbert said.
"They were able to render aid to him until the Fire Department got to the scene," Silbert said.
Firefighters stretched a ladder across the rushing stream to the island and used it to slide the stretcher holding the victim to the shore. Fire Department spokesman Ian Brennan said a "special operations command" team used rope-rescue and swift-water tactics to reach and retrieve the victim. The man was talking and conscious at the scene, said the police spokesman.
Both victims, who were not identified, were taken to area hospitals, where the police officer was being treated for a leg injury, Silbert said. The civilian's injuries were not immediately known, but Silbert said neither were considered life-threatening. The driver of the second vehicle remained at the scene, according to the spokesman.
Two senior police officers who were visiting the people in the hospital ended up making an arrest an unrelated incident, police said Saturday.
Deputy Commissioner Jeronimo "Jerry" Rodriguez and Chief of Detectives Dean Palmere witnessed a robbery and took two suspects into custody, Silbert said.
Southbound lanes were shut down during the rescue and while officers investigated the crash scene. Northbound lanes also were restricted for a time, causing a backup of commuters departing downtown.
It was not clear if weather was a factor in the accident, Silbert said. The investigation of the incident was continuing, he said.
Adrienne Barnes, a spokewoman for the transportation department, said accidents involving the department's employees were rare.
"Our people always try to take precautionary measures," she said. "We don;'t have these kind of incidents occur constantly."
Officer Teresa Rigby was knocked off the other side of the JFX in June 2011 when a car struck the back of her cruiser while she was helping a stranded motorist in the northbound lanes. She fell onto the parking lot of the Pepsi plant and suffered broken bones in her face, leg and pelvis.
The driver in that accident was convicted of three traffic offenses, fined $260, assessed three points on his license, and ordered to perform community service at a police station. Rigby, who was just three years out of the police academy at the time, underwent several surgeries and rehabilitation.
The elevated, curving highway has only narrow breakdown lanes lined with concrete barriers, and a former police official has said police officers hesitate to pull speeders over on this stretch of road because of the dangers of stopping there.
After that accident, police union President Robert F. Cherry said he asked the Police Department's patrol chief to require multiple officers to respond to traffic stops or accident scenes on the highway. It wasn't immediately clear if that request was acted on. In any case, there were other officers backing up Friday's accident who were able to respond quickly and aid the victims, police said.