CAMBRIDGE -- Scrambling to beat the high winds and heavy seas expected from Hurricane Floyd, two dozen police divers again searched the 38- to 50-foot-deep Choptank River yesterday but failed to find a 9 mm handgun investigators believe was used by a 27-year-old Laurel man to kill his two young children.
Maryland State Police and Natural Resources Police divers were joined by colleagues from Baltimore County and Washington, who brought a sonar device similar to equipment used to find the wreckage of John F. Kennedy Jr.'s plane off Martha's Vinyard, Mass., this summer.
A 55-foot Coast Guard rescue vessel was summoned from Hooper's Island in lower Dorchester County to assist in what state police say is probably the largest underwater search they have conducted.
As police patrol boats bucked in the choppy greenish-brown water in a steady 10-mph northwest wind, a dozen divers at a time searched two areas near the Frederick C. Malkus Jr. Memorial Bridge -- where police believe Richard Wayne Spicknall II tossed the weapon that killed his children, 2-year-old Richard Wayne III and Destiny Array, 3, on Sept. 9.
"To be honest, it's really like looking for a needle in a haystack," said Sgt. O. E. Artfitch, who leads the state police underwater recovery team.
In addition to the search beneath the U.S. 50 span, another dive team began work in Boilingbroke Creek, behind a home under construction where the two children were found shot while strapped into child safety seats in a Jeep that Spicknall had borrowed from his parents.
Twice, police said, a police dog tracked a scent to the edge of the shallow creek about half a mile from the bridge where Spicknall originally told police he had been overcome by a carjacker who threw him into the water 50 feet below and then sped away with the Jeep.
More than 150 people gathered in Pasadena Tuesday for the funeral of the children.
Their father, being held without bail in the Talbot County Detention Center, is to appear in an Easton courtroom today as his lawyers ask a judge to impose a gag order prohibiting prosecutors and police from discussing details of the case with reporters, particularly the confession Spicknall allegedly gave after intensive questioning by investigators.
If convicted of the two counts of first-degree murder, Spicknall could receive the death penalty.
Yesterday, divers worked in total darkness, moving hand-over-hand in 1-foot increments along the river bottom, guided by a thick, heavy search rope. Metal detectors, which had been used in the search last week, proved useless.
"There's so much debris from fishermen and the bridge construction, plus the steel in the bridge itself, a metal detector just goes off constantly," said Cpl. Walt May, a Natural Resources Police diver.
Even if no storm were approaching, investigators said, they would feel urgency because it is unlikely that they will again be able to put together a team with so many divers from police agencies.
"We felt like we needed to really exhaust this day and give it a good effort for as long as possible," said Lt. Joseph Barker, a state police spokesman.
Pub Date: 9/16/99