Baltimore police officer dies in Pa. crash on way to training

A 33-year Baltimore police veteran who was nearing retirement was killed Monday evening in a single-vehicle accident in Pennsylvania while traveling to a training program, police said.

Officer James E. Fowler III, 61, of Catonsville, was driving through Lewistown, Pa. at about 5:25 p.m. when his 2002 Chevrolet truck hit a berm on U.S. 22 and came to rest along a concrete barrier on the left side of the roadway.

Inclement weather played a factor in the crash, police said, but a cause of death has not been determined.

Fowler joined the Baltimore Police Department in 1976 after he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Navy, and the bulk of his career was spent in the patrol division and traffic investigations, according to police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi.

"Officer James Fowler served the people of Baltimore as a police officer for nearly 34 years with honor and distinction, including earning a bronze star commendation," Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said in a statement. "My thoughts and prayers are with his family during this painful and difficult time and I join the citizens of Baltimore to express my heartfelt appreciation for his decades of proud public service."

Sgt. George Hauf, Fowler's supervisor in the accident investigation unit, said Fowler was a hard-working officer whose upbeat personality rubbed off on others. He volunteered for extra shifts and helped with menial tasks like making sure the station house was stocked with coffee and soft drinks.

"Probably his best quality at these [crash] scenes was that he was very good with the families," Hauf said. "Jim had a way with families. He could put them at ease."

Hauf said Fowler, who enjoyed hunting and fishing, was planning to retire in January. On Monday, he was driving to Penn State University to participate in accident investigation training workshops.

Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III called the crash a "horrible irony," given Fowler's expertise at investigating crash scenes.

"The guy's got over 30 years of service to the city of Baltimore and died trying to go get skills to help make himself an even better cop," said Bealefeld, who recalled driving with Fowler through the streets of Northwest Baltimore as a trainee.

Guglielmi said Fowler won department commendations including a Bronze Star for catching gun suspects, and a citation for handling traffic during special events in 2000.

According to a 1993 Sun article, he was dispatched to respond to a citizen's call of a frantic woman screaming and helped deliver a baby in the back of a police wagon. Fowler had received medical training in the Navy and served as a volunteer medic with a Carroll County fire department.

"I had the baby's head in my hands," Fowler told the Sun at the time. "When the baby came out, it wasn't breathing, so I placed her on her side and let the material drain to clear her airway. … She started to breathe on her own."

Fowler wrapped the newborn in the mother's coat, laid her on her mother's stomach, and waited for an ambulance that took mother and daughter to Sinai Hospital.

"It was kind of amazing," Fowler said. "I've seen a lot of things as a police officer, but this really gave me a great feeling."

Fowler was a graduate of Catonsville High School and Catonsville Community College, Guglielmi said.

He is survived by his wife and two children.

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