Two off-duty law enforcement officers were struck and killed late Friday by a swerving vehicle on the shoulder of Interstate 270 in Montgomery County, Maryland State Police said Saturday.
One officer had crashed his own vehicle on the highway and the other had stopped to help when they were struck by a third vehicle, police said.
Supervisory Special Agent Carlos Wolff, 36, of the Central Investigative Division at FBI headquarters was pronounced dead at Suburban Hospital, police said. Deputy Chief State Fire Marshal Sander B. Cohen, 33, was pronounced dead at the scene.
Top state and law enforcement officials responded Saturday with condolences to the families and praise for Wolff and Cohen.
Gov. Larry Hogan said on Twitter that he and first lady Yumi Hogan were “heartbroken,” and that Wolff and Cohen “served our communities every day to keep families safe. We thank these officers for their selfless dedication to our state & nation.”
Police said the incident began about 10 p.m. Friday, when Cohen called the state police and reported he was at the scene of a crash on southbound I-270 near Gude Drive in Montgomery County.
“He requested assistance and blocked the approach to the damaged vehicle with his personal vehicle and activated his emergency flashers,” police said. “His actions placed him in an official capacity at that time.”
Wolff was the driver of the crashed vehicle, police said.
Both officers were standing in the shoulder of the highway when a 2000 Honda Accord “swerved to the left, apparently to avoid the vehicles in lane one, and struck both men on the shoulder,” police said.
The two officers were thrown over the jersey wall onto the northbound lanes of I-270, “where it appears at least one of them was struck by a northbound vehicle,” police said.
The Accord’s driver was identified as Roberto A. Garza Palacios, 28, of Germantown. Palacios and two passengers identified as Mirelia Y. Barcena Mormontoy, 23, also of Germantown, and Ada G. Sandoval Cortez, 32, of Clarksburg, were all transported to area hospitals, police said.
Police are still investigating the cause of Wolff’s initial crash. They said evidence indicates his vehicle struck the concrete barrier on the left side of the highway and became disabled, but the reason was unclear.
A preliminary investigation did not indicate that alcohol was involved in the crashes, and no charges have been filed, police said. The incident remains under investigation.
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The highway was closed overnight but all lanes had reopened by 6 a.m. Saturday, police said.
Cohen had been a member of the Office of the State Fire Marshal for nine years, according to police. Hogan said he also was a member of the Rockville Volunteer Fire Department.
Maryland State Fire Marshal Brian Geraci called Cohen “an exemplary investigator and leader who took great pride in his law enforcement career and who devoted himself to protecting and serving the citizens of Maryland.”
Col. William Pollozzi, state police superintendent, said Cohen was off duty and did not know who was inside Wolff’s vehicle when he stopped. He “just recognized that someone needed help, and he never hesitated last night to stop and help someone in need.”
Pollozzi said Cohen has “now joined the ranks of Maryland’s fallen heroes.”