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Killed in the line of duty 'A dark day': Murder of Trooper Plank a reminder of the drug trade's wide reach.


WHEN A POLICE OFFICER is killed in the line of duty, it causes a collective shudder, no matter how numb we become to daily reports of crime. When that officer is killed while making a routine traffic stop, the revulsion is deeper still.

Our condolences go out to the family and colleagues of TFC Edward A. Plank Jr., the 28-year-old Maryland state trooper who was murdered after stopping a car for speeding early Tuesday in Princess Anne on the Eastern Shore. Police yesterday charged two men, who are in their 20s and are from New York and North Carolina, with the murder. Officials indicate the two, now under arrest, were delivering a pound of crack and powder cocaine.

Considering the thousands of traffic stops and other investigations conducted by the state police, fatalities in the line duty have been rare: seven in 45 years. But that doesn't abate the impact when they occur.

Like the last trooper slain, Cpl. Theodore D. Wolf in 1990, Tuesday's killing came in the course of a routine stop. The 1990 murder was on Interstate 95; police believe the suspects in this case were running drugs along rural Route 13 to avoid the highly patrolled I-95 corridor.

Unlike the slaying of Trooper Wolf, who was ambushed while alone, no immediate questions arose about the protection afforded police. Trooper Plank had stopped the car and awaited a backup, Trooper Dennis Lord. When Trooper Plank returned to the vehicle after checking out a suspicious license, he was shot in the head. His backup opened fire and struck one of the suspects.

This senseless act should prompt Marylanders to reflect on the bravery of the Maryland State Police, and all our police officers. But it also should jar the complacency people may harbor about the drug war. It is not a scourge confined to the urban core or the interstates or to overseas cartels. If I-95 becomes uncomfortable, the drug dealers seek other avenues, by land, water, even a barren two-lane road nestled between farm fields and marshland.

We are certain that the men and women of the state police will not be deterred by this murder of their colleague. Col. David B. Mitchell, state police superintendent, called the loss a "dark day in the history of the Maryland State Police" -- as it is for all


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