Two off-duty Howard County officers came to the rescue Wednesday of one of the state police force's most decorated troopers, who was in a fight for his gun after two suspected drug couriers allegedly jumped him during a traffic stop on Interstate 95.
Officer Bruce Lohr of the Howard County Police Department and Sgt. Rodney Stem of the Howard County Sheriff's Department were driving south on the highway near Havre de Grace when they saw Trooper John E. Appleby on the ground with the two men on top of him.
The attackers had pulled Trooper Appleby's gun from his holster and were trying to wrest it from his grasp, police said.
"We pulled over, got out and yelled, 'Police!' " said Officer Lohr, 36, a 14-year veteran of the county police force. "He was in a lot of trouble and needed some help."
Seeing the officers standing over them with guns drawn, the suspects -- two Baltimore men -- gave up the fight and were arrested. Police said they found 104 grams of heroin in their pickup truck.
"We just saw another officer in trouble and we helped him out; it wasn't a big deal," said Officer Lohr, a crime prevention officer whose normal duties include organizing neighborhood watch groups and lecturing about safety tips.
He and Sergeant Stem -- who has made a name for himself in Howard County by teaching race relations to young students -- were driving back from a seminar about hate and bias in Delaware when they saw the trooper being attacked in Harford County.
Sergeant Stem also downplayed the incident, simply saying, "It was very fortunate" that he and Officer Lohr could offer help.
But state police said the rescue was no small feat and underscored how dangerous drug traffickers on I-95 have become.
"We're forever in the debt of those two guys," said Lt. Bernard Foster, commander of the JFK barracks where Trooper Appleby is assigned. Trooper Appleby, one of the state police's most aggressive drug interdiction officers, has made countless seizures of drugs on I-95. On one traffic stop alone last year, he seized 71.5 pounds of cocaine worth $4.5 million.
He has been a leader in narcotics enforcement at the JFK barracks. Troopers from that barracks seize more drugs and money from criminal suspects each year than troopers from any other state police barracks.
Lieutenant Foster said the trooper "is very shaken up by what happened" and was ordered to take a few days off to spend with his family. Trooper Appleby didn't wish to talk about the ordeal.
Two men were heading south on I-95 when the trooper pulled them over at 1:40 p.m.
The trooper was talking to the driver outside the truck when the passenger also got out and began walking toward him. Trooper Appleby had ordered the passenger back in the car and his attention was diverted when the driver jumped him, police said.
Trooper Appleby was shoved to the ground and his gun pulled from its holster, allegedly by the driver, police said.
But the trooper managed to fight with the driver so that he did not have control of the weapon.
State police spokesman Leonard A. Sipes had high praise for the two off-duty officers. "Thank God they were there," he said. "I hate to think what would have happened if they weren't.
"I-95 is almost like the mean streets of Baltimore. There are people not afraid to give up their lives, or take another's, for their drug stash."
Mr. Sipes said Trooper Appleby is a workaholic when it comes to drug interdiction on I-95. "He's responsible for most of our statistics," Mr. Sipes said.
For instance, his seizure of those 71 pounds of cocaine in June 1991 was such a huge haul that it accounted for 80 percent of all the cocaine -- 89 pounds -- seized by the state police highway patrols during the first six months of the year.
Officer Lohr, who recently was honored at the 12th Annual Governor's Crime Prevention Awards, said Trooper Appleby thanked the two officers at the scene but was also quite businesslike.
The trooper was the one who found the grams of heroin in the pickup, despite the life-threatening ordeal he had just been through, police said.
Police identified the driver as Anthony Everette Johnson, 26, of the 800 block of N. Caroline St., and the passenger as Alvin J. Thompson, 39, of the 1900 block of W. Franklin St. Both were charged with attempted first-degree murder, assault with intent to murder and smuggling heroin, police said.