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William Toohey, former Baltimore County police spokesman, dies

Bill Toohey, the former spokesman for the Baltimore County Police Department, died.

William J. "Bill" Toohey, a former spokesman for the Baltimore County police who was the face of the department during high-profile cases for more than a decade, died Thursday of intravascular lymphoma at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. The Canton resident was 69.

An article in The Baltimore Sun in 2009 said Mr. Toohey, who became the police spokesman in 1996, "was probably the most quoted official in Baltimore County, his observations a daily staple of articles in this newspaper and elsewhere."

Mr. Toohey, a former radio reporter, appeared widely in the broadcast and print media during the two-week crime spree of Joseph C. Palczynski that gripped the region. Palczynski, who killed four people and held three hostage, was shot to death by police officers in a Dundalk rowhouse in March 2000.

In an article in The Sun in 2006, Mr. Toohey recalled the Palczynski case, saying, "During that whole time, everyone was a nervous wreck, and it was up to the police to try to maintain some sense of stability and control. People had to look at us and say, 'They're working on it. They're in control, and eventually it will be OK.' We had to convey a sense of confidence."

He added, "When I was talking, I was not talking to the media. I was talking to the public."

He became the Baltimore County police spokesman in 1996 after besting 29 other applicants for the position, according to a Sun article. He was a civilian employee and held the post until retiring in 2010, when the police chief decided he wanted a uniformed officer in the job.

Mr. Toohey then went to work as the communications director for the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention, a post he held at his death. He also taught communications at Towson University.

Mr. Toohey had previously worked as spokesman for the city's Department of Housing and Community Development. He resigned that post in 1993 and joined Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski's staff. He later worked for Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes.

"Bill Toohey was an old school kind of guy with absolute integrity and the highest standard of professionalism," Mikulski said. "He was a man with such generosity, always there with a kind word and helping hand."

Sarbanes said his integrity, decency and humor made him an invaluable presence in the office. He called Mr. Toohey's death "a real loss to the community."

"He was a real straight shooter," Sarbanes said. "He always dealt with people squarely and fairly. He was an outstanding person and a strong family man."

A native of New Jersey, Mr. Toohey earned an English degree at Seton Hill University and a master's degree in communications at what is now Notre Dame of Maryland University. He came to Baltimore after stints as a National Public Radio New York correspondent and as a newscaster for the ABC News' FM radio network.

Mr. Toohey worked for more than a year, beginning in 1979, as a writer and producer in the New York area. He did reporting on Bolivia, Puerto Rico and Northern Ireland.

He came to Baltimore in 1986 as a reporter for the old Johns Hopkins radio station, then called WJHU, now WYPR. He became the station's interim news director in 1987. He went on to become its evening news anchor.

"Bill was calm, wise, reassuring," said Andy Bienstock, WYPR's program director. "He was a real pleasure to be around. The moment never got too big for him."

No plans for a funeral have been announced.

Survivors include his wife, Rosemary Frisino Toohey; two sons, Liam Toohey of Washington, D.C., and Desmond Toohey of Michigan; and two daughters, Meaghan Toohey of Rome, Italy, and Merrily Toohey of Baltimore.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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