A 40-year-old Maryland Transportation Authority Police officer was killed on New Year's Eve by a hit-and-run driver in Baltimore, his superior officers said yesterday.
The officer, Courtney G. Brooks, a 13-year veteran of the force, was part of a traffic detail near the interchange of Interstates 95 and 395 when he was struck about 11:20 p.m. Monday, said Marcus Brown, chief of the Transportation Authority Police.
A city Fire Department ambulance took Brooks to Maryland Shock Trauma Center, where he was pronounced dead at 12:29 a.m. yesterday.
Six hours later in Cecil County, police found the vehicle that they think struck the officer before speeding away.
The green 1994 Ford Explorer - with heavy front-end damage, a cracked windshield and a temporary Delaware tag - was spotted at the Flying J truck stop in North East. Within half an hour, officers had arrested the SUV's owner, Kerri Joanna King, at her home in nearby Elkton.
Brown said King had not been charged in Brooks' death but was being held on a failure-to-appear warrant resulting from a drunken-driving arrest Sept. 27. She was pulled over by a Transportation Authority Police officer on I-95 and ticketed for drunken driving and driving with an expired license, according to court records.
"She's a person of interest," said Brown, who added that after her arrest, King asked for an attorney.
Brown, speaking to reporters at the authority's headquarters on Broening Highway, could not say whether alcohol was a factor in the accident, which is being investigated.
When he was hit, Brooks had been stopping trucks from driving into downtown during the New Year's Eve fireworks celebration. Brooks, aided by at least 30 flares placed in the road to alert motorists, was alone at the time of the accident while his two partners took a break, Brown said.
Brooks had three children and lived with his fiancee in Carroll County.
"He loved the job he was doing," Brown said. "He was really an inspiration to everyone who worked with him."
Brooks graduated from the Transportation Authority's police academy in 1994 and was a member of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Unit, said Kelly L. Melhem, a spokeswoman for the authority.
Gov. Martin O'Malley's office released a statement yesterday saying that Brooks' death last night "as thousands gathered to celebrate the New Year is a somber reminder of the courageous work done by law enforcement officers throughout our state - at the state and local level - to keep the citizens of Maryland safe."
Brooks is one of four Maryland law enforcement officers killed by hit-and-run drivers since statistics on police fatalities were first compiled in 1808, said David H. Muhl, a sergeant with the Crofton Police Department who operates Maryland Fallen Police Officers Memorial Inc.
The previous three hit-and-run victims worked for the Baltimore Police Department. Roy L. Mitchell was killed in 1925, Richard J. Lear a decade later and Roland Wallace Morgan in 1951.
More recently, several officers have been killed by vehicles in incidents that did not involve a driver fleeing from the scene:
On June 18, 2007, Pfc. Scott Allen Wheeler, 31, of the Howard County police died after being struck by a vehicle while working a traffic enforcement detail.
Cpl. Robert T. Krause, 39, of the Transportation Authority Police, died Sept. 1, 2006, of injuries suffered the previous December when a van crashed into his motorcycle.
Officer Duke G. Aaron III, 29, of the Transportation Authority Police died July 20, 2004, after the parked cruiser he was sitting in was rear-ended by a pickup truck.
In all, about 70 Maryland officers have died in crashes, some while chasing other vehicles. At least eight were killed by drunken drivers; eight in aircraft accidents; four while directing traffic; and at least one during a traffic stop, said Muhl, whose Web site honors police and correctional officers killed in the line of duty.
"This is something we have to deal with every day doing our jobs," Muhl, a former Baltimore officer, said yesterday in response to Brooks' death. "It's a shame that we have to become the victims ourselves."
Kevin P. Morison, director of communications for the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund in Washington, said Brooks' death "is not an isolated incident, but rather the part of a very disturbing national trend."
According to preliminary data, Morison said, 188 law enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty in the United States last year. Except for 2001, when 72 officers died in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, 2007 was the deadliest year for U.S. law enforcement since 1989, he said.
Brooks was the 83rd officer nationwide to be killed in a traffic-related incident last year, Morison said, a record.
John D. Porcari, chairman of the Maryland Transportation Authority, said Brooks' death "underscores the importance of each and every person to drive safely."
"It's a tough day for the men and women of the MdTA Police that place their lives on the line each day to protect us and our families," Porcari said. "We honor Officer Brooks for making the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty."