U.S. 13, where a Maryland state trooper was gunned down early Tuesday, has become a popular alternative for drug-traffickers looking to escape detection on the heavily patrolled lanes of Interstate 95.
The four-lane divided highway -- which runs through rural Delaware, Maryland and Virginia -- "has become a pipeline for drugs and weapons from New York, New Jersey into the Tidewater area and North Carolina," said Tfc. Krah Plunkert, who works drug-interdiction patrols from the Salisbury barracks.
Although specific numbers were not available yesterday, Salisbury-based troopers average three to four drug arrests a month. Last month, they stopped a 1989 Cadillac for speeding on U.S. 13 near Route 12 and found 518 grams of cocaine and arrested three men on drug charges.
Troopers found a pound of cocaine and a .45-caliber semiautomatic handgun in the red Plymouth Sundance that carried the two men charged in the shooting of Tfc. Edward A. Plank Jr. on Tuesday.
The men were traveling south on a dark stretch of U.S. 13 near Princess Anne about 12:50 a.m. when Trooper Plank stopped the car for speeding. One of the men shot the trooper in the head after he had written the driver a ticket.
A second trooper fired back, hitting one of the suspects in the head.
Police have not said who was driving or who fired the shots that killed Trooper Plank.
William S. Lynch, 21, of Brooklyn, N.Y., was caught in the woods near a roadblock after the car in which the two suspects were riding became submerged in a pond off Route 413. Ivan F. Lovell, 25, of Manteo, N.C., was captured after he broke into a farmer's house on Route 413.
The suspects are typical of what state police say they encounter increasingly along the highway that runs almost parallel to I-95, law enforcement officials say.
Both men have been convicted of drug-related crimes in Dare County, N.C., court records show.
Mr. Lynch was convicted there of possession of marijuana in April and is waiting to be tried on two counts of assault with a
deadly weapon in an unrelated incident.
Mr. Lovell was convicted of possession with intent to sell cocaine in September 1992 and of possession of cocaine and maintaining a residence to sell the drug in May 1993. He also is awaiting trial on charges of assault with a deadly weapon earlier this year.
"People don't realize what is going on around here," said one trooper who patrols U.S. 13. "It's not just chicken farmers and country people down here."
As state police increased pressure on drug couriers, or "mules," along I-95 in the mid- to late 1980s, the couriers began to use U.S. 13.
Four years ago, three troopers from the Salisbury barracks were assigned to work drug interdiction on U.S. 13. On their first day, they stopped a Cadillac on U.S. 13 and recovered 73 grams of crack cocaine and 23 grams of heroin, said Cpl. Mike Lewis of the Salisbury barracks.
Two years later, Corporal Lewis stopped another Cadillac on U.S. 13 and discovered hydraulic arms that would open hidden compartments inside the car. "I couldn't believe it," Corporal Lewis said. One compartment could be opened by pressing buttons on the car radio in a certain sequence.
Looking further, he found two other compartments: One contained two 9 mm semiautomatic handguns loaded with hollow-point bullets. The second one contained several thousand dollars.
Troopers say nighttime traffic stops on U.S. 13 are particularly dangerous.
"Before I did drug interdiction, I wouldn't work Route 13 at night," Trooper Plunkert said. "I knew it was too dangerous and I had plenty of other work."
Private funeral services for Trooper Plank are set for today.