- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A man dressed in a flannel shirt and wielding a shotgun and a hammer attacked a vehicle mounted with speed cameras that was parked along the Baltimore-Washington Parkway on Wednesday, causing major traffic delays and a manhunt that continued into the night.

A Maryland State Police-led search that included helicopters, armored vehicles, canine dogs and officers began just after 11:30 a.m. when the suspect slipped back into the heavily wooded area bordering the parkway about two miles from Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.

No one was hurt and the man’s motive remained unclear, though police said it was a “logical possibility” that he was provoked by the presence of the speed cameras.

Maryland State Police described the suspect in the attack as a white male about 60 to 65 years old, 5 feet 8 inches tall and 160 pounds. Wearing what appeared to be a red-and-blue plaid shirt and blue jeans on a June day approaching 90 degrees, the man walked out of the woods with a weapon in each hand and approached a white Jeep sport utility vehicle parked on the southbound side of Maryland Route 295, Maryland State Police spokesman Greg Shipley said.

The driver of the Jeep was an employee of Texas-based Affiliated Computer Services State and Local Solutions, which is contracted by the State Highway Administration to monitor vehicles for speeding through work zones.

The man “rapped on the back window with a shotgun” before coming to the driver’s side window to yell at the driver, Mr. Shipley said. The man in the Jeep told police he couldn’t understand what the assailant was yelling as he smashed the vehicle’s window.

The victim honked his horn and then jumped out of the vehicle and crouched by a guardrail while the suspect struck the windshield. The suspect left two large breaks in the glass before fleeing back into the woods the way he came.

Mr. Shipley said no shots were fired. He said the victim was “shaken up but not physically injured.”

Fearing an armed man on the loose near the heavily traveled roadway, state troopers and Anne Arundel County Police quickly shut down the stretch of highway northbound from Route 100 and southbound at Interstate 695, as well as the ramps on and off the parkway. About 50 law enforcement personnel conducted a search for the suspect.

Drivers who normally expect a steady traffic pattern found themselves at a standstill by midday, as police with heavy weapons combed the forested and commercial areas along the parkway and helicopters circled above looking for the suspect amid a green-and-gray landscape.

BWI officials posted a notice on the airport website warning travelers of traffic delays around the airport as a result of the incident, as live footage of the search was broadcast nationwide on cable news stations.

Charlie Gischlar, a spokesman for the Maryland State Highway Administration, said parkway detours created “a real mess,” and even the agency couldn’t reach its crew working in the closed-off area.

Mr. Gischlar said a crew was working on widening both sides of 295 between the Baltimore Beltway and 195, and the camera operator was enforcing speeding laws in that area. The state started the automated-speed-camera program in 2009 in part to help reduce accidents in work zones.

Drivers can be fined $40 if they are caught driving through a work zone at 12 miles faster than the posted speed limit, and signs are posted around monitored areas.

But the traffic cameras, popular with some people, have proved controversial with others who think their primary purpose is to generate revenue rather than provide for public safety.

If the attack was motivated by the cameras, it would not be the first in the country in recent years.
Montgomery County, the first Maryland county to implement the cameras, has reported a series of incidents of vandalism affecting speed cameras or alerting drivers to their presence.

In 2007, a Tennessee man shot a speed camera when it snapped a photo of his speeding car. A year later, an Arizona driver repositioned traffic cameras in collision-prone intersections to alter their point of view.

In 2009, a speed-camera operator was fatally shot in Arizona by an angry driver who is now serving a 22-year sentence for murder.

AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman John Townsend said the attack Wednesday was at the very least misguided because the camera was in a legitimate work zone.

“But it shows you how widespread the mistrust is becoming,” he said. “No one justifies an attack like this, but people are really upset about the cameras.”

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