Maryland officer dies of injuries sustained during pursuit
"One of our best and brightest"
By Ernesto Londono and Debbi Wilgoren
Officer Luke T. Hoffman, 24, was pronounced dead at 1:30 a.m., police said. He joined the department 15 months ago, and was the top graduate from his police academy class last July. A news release from the police department announced Hoffman's death "with profound regret."
Hoffman was struck about 12:30 a.m. Wednesday by a cruiser driven by Officer Stephen J. Wofsey. Hoffman had been chasing a suspected drunk driver, who abandoned his vehicle and was fleeing on foot, police said. Wofsey was driving to the scene to help in the pursuit.
After his cruiser hit Hoffman, Wofsey swerved off Old Georgia Avenue and slammed into a tree. Both officers were airlifted to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore after the crash.
Wofsey, 26, was released from the hospital yesterday and could not be reached for comment. Police said he joined the department in 2002 and is a police officer III, the highest rank below corporal.
Both Hoffman and Wofsey were assigned to the Wheaton police station. They went to the area of Bel Pre Road and Tynewick Drive shortly after midnight after receiving a report of a driver who appeared to be inebriated. The driver pulled into an apartment complex at Dunsinane Drive and Tynewick Drive, police said.
There, "the driver bailed out," said Lt. Eric Burnett, a police spokesman.
The driver apparently ran across Georgia Avenue and Old Georgia Avenue, police said, and disappeared into a dark, wooded area. Officers began setting up a perimeter to try to apprehend him, and K-9 units were dispatched.
Hoffman got out of his cruiser to chase the suspect. He was standing alongside Old Georgia Avenue near Montpelier Road, an area that officers said was dimly lighted, when Wofsey's vehicle hit him.
The suspected impaired driver Montgomery County police were chasing when Hoffman was struck was arrested last night, police said this morning.
Ruel F. Dempster, 19, of Silver Spring, was charged with reckless endangerment, three counts of fleeing and eluding police and four counts of hit and run, for striking parked vehicles.
Police said they are considering filing additional charges. He is being held at the Montgomery County Detention Center on a $250,000 bond and is expected to appear before a judge this afternoon for a bond hearing.
Burnett said that the department's police collision reconstruction unit is investigating the crash and that the inquiry could take several weeks.
County Executive Isiah Leggett was one of several Montgomery officials who visited Hoffman's relatives yesterday at the hospital.
"It's a very large and warm family," Leggett said. "They're taking it quite hard. This is a painful experience for them."
Leggett said he told Hoffman's family how proud county officials are of his work and sacrifices.
"Whenever officers go out, they're walking into a dangerous job, and bad things can happen," Leggett said. "But it's always different when you're faced with the practical realities of that. You're not talking numbers. You're looking at a young life."
Hoffman was a police officer I, the entry-level rank. He graduated from McDaniel College and was trained as both a firefighter and an emergency medical technician.
At the police academy last year, Hoffman received the Overall Academic award and the Harry Hamilton Traffic Award. Since December, he had worked the midnight shift in the county's 4th police district.
Hoffman is the fourth Montgomery County police officer to die in the line of duty since 1993. All four officers were killed in car crashes.
Lt. Joseph A. Mattingly, 51, was killed Sept. 13, 2003, in a single-car crash. Officer James E. Walch, 30, died Jan. 24, 1994, when his cruiser hit a patch of ice, struck a utility pole and caught on fire. Officer Mark Filer, 31, died in 1993 after a pickup truck slammed head-on into his cruiser as he was driving to work.
Copyright 2007 The Washington Post
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