What we know, and what we don’t, about the van full of fuel that brought Baltimore to a standstill Monday

Baltimore Police Colonel Rich Worley briefs the media after a suspicious vehicle caused much of downtown Baltimore to come to a standstill Monday afternoon.

The bizarre story of a van full of diesel fuel prompting building evacuations and closing downtown Baltimore’s major thoroughfares Monday has left us with no shortage of questions.

Here’s what we know — and what we still don’t.


Officials suspect fuel theft, not terrorism

Despite the precautionary building evacuations, the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on Wednesday and President Donald Trump’s planned visit to Baltimore Thursday, authorities believe the suspicious van in the parking garage of 100 E. Pratt St. was part of a scheme to steal fuel — not part of a terrorist plot.

Police used a robot to enter the abandoned, 15-passenger van with blacked-out windows and found hoses used for stealing diesel fuel and two bins full of possibly stolen fuel.


The van had 80 gallons of fuel — not 1,000, as officials initially reported

Several city officials, including Fire Chief Niles Ford, initially said the van was holding 1,000 gallons of fuel, but the Maryland Department of the Environment reported it offloaded about 80 gallons from the vehicle. It’s unclear where the initial number came from.

Whose van was it?


The van’s Pennsylvania license plate read “motor home,” but police have not released a suspect description or announced any arrests or charges in the case as of Tuesday evening.

Why was it in a downtown Baltimore parking garage?

Also unclear. We’re continuing to ask police for more information.

Was it connected to the alleged fuel theft in Baltimore County later that day?

It’s possible, according to Baltimore County Police. They are investigating the “possibility” of a connection between an arrest involving the transportation of large quantities of diesel fuel in White Marsh and the discovery a suspicious vehicle with hundreds of gallons of allegedly stolen fuel in downtown Baltimore, officials told The Baltimore Sun Media Group Tuesday.

A man who allegedly used gift cards to buy large quantities of diesel fuel was taken into custody in that case, police said. The Maryland Department of the Environment arrived and unloaded an estimated 660 gallons of fuel from the vehicle, Baltimore County Police spokeswoman Jennifer Peach said.

Who steals fuel, anyway?

Someone looking to sell it without paying taxes, usually.

Stolen fuel is most often taken from service stations and sold at truck stops or other rest areas to truckers and other “transient” types passing through the state, said Jeff Kelly, director of the Field Enforcement Division in the state comptroller’s office.

It’s up to local authorities to police fuel theft, he said. The comptroller’s office dispatches agents across the state to regulate sales and inspect fuel quality.

“Our [involvement] would be if they are selling the fuel after the fact,” Kelly said.

In Maryland, the comptroller’s office cited just one person, a 42-year-old Pennsylvania man, for trying to sell untaxed fuel in the past year. Agents seized the man’s Peterbilt tanker truck and the remainder of the fuel in Garrett County near the Maryland/Pennsylvania state line in February, after determining he was not licensed to sell fuel in Maryland.

“Additional delivery documents indicating multiple Maryland fuel deliveries also were recovered and seized as part of the inspection,” the comptroller’s office said at the time.


Miami, Los Angeles and Las Vegas are hot spots for the crime, together accounting for about 20 million gallons a year in stolen diesel, the Associated Press reported in 2017.

How could agents tell it was stolen?

Aside from the hoses, they might have been able to tell just by looking at it.

Diesel fuel sold to the public, and taxed by the government, is typically clear in color. Dyed diesel denotes that it is not taxed, generally for one of two reasons.

Red-dyed diesel is to be used only for off-road purposes, such as farm equipment, construction equipment, home heating and generators. Blue-dyed diesel is to be used only for U.S. government vehicles. The use of dyed diesel fuel is otherwise illegal, and people transporting dyed diesel are required to carry accompanying documentation.

So if the dye in the van was red or blue in color, it would have been obvious.

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