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Retired Md. Trooper Recalls Capture Of D.C. Snipers

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(Photo credit: DAVIS TURNER/AFP/Getty Images)

(Photo credit: DAVIS TURNER/AFP/Getty Images)

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DAN DEARTH
The Herald-Mail

MYERSVILLE, Md. (AP) — The rest stop off Interstate 70 near Myersville has been renovated since two of this century’s most notorious serial killers were captured there 10 years ago Wednesday.

Retired Maryland State Trooper 1st Class D. Wayne Smith said the parking area is bigger and larger buildings have been constructed to replace the former welcome center.

Despite the changes, Smith said he remembers where the Chevrolet Caprice with New Jersey tags was parked. The car was used by Beltway snipers John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo, whose shooting spree terrorized the Washington, D.C., area for 21 days in 2002. During that time, the two killed 10 people and wounded three others.

“It was about right there,” Smith said Tuesday as he pointed to the spot where the blue sedan sat on Oct. 24, 2002. “We were going to do whatever we had to do to make sure they weren’t going to get out of there.”

Smith said he was patrolling in his cruiser near the foot of South Mountain when he received a call at about 1 a.m. The dispatcher said a car matching the description of the one used in the shootings was parked at the rest stop near the I-70 westbound lanes.

“When I was on my way, I was scared to death that they were going to leave,” he said.

Smith, who was the first officer to arrive at the scene, said he parked his cruiser in a way that it blocked the ramp to the interstate.

He said he grabbed his shotgun and watched the car until other units arrived about five minutes later.

“It seemed like an hour,” Smith said.

Because the windows of the Caprice were tinted, troopers couldn’t determine whether someone was in the car or the snipers were watching from a nearby treeline.

Smith said officers at the scene believed they were going to make an assault on the vehicle, but instead were ordered to establish a perimeter and wait for an FBI SWAT team to arrive.

“You realized the gravity of this thing,” he said. “You realized that they have killed a lot of folks — indiscriminately. You knew they wouldn’t hesitate to kill someone standing between them and freedom.”

Smith said he was surprised that no one tried to leave the rest stop until 45 minutes after his arrival.

Shortly before 2 a.m., a tractor-trailer started to head down the exit ramp, he said. Not knowing if the snipers had hijacked the truck, Smith said he stopped the vehicle and forced the driver out at gunpoint.

Officers determined that the snipers weren’t inside the rig, Smith said, but they didn’t let the driver leave.

He said troopers decided to use the size of the tractor-trailer to their advantage.

“His truck made a more formidable roadblock than my car,” Smith said.

State police helicopters picked up the SWAT team in Montgomery County and flew the agents to a McDonald’s parking lot in Myersville, Smith said. They then were driven to the rest stop, where they formed at the exit and slowly made their way toward the vehicle.

Smith said despite all of the activity, Malvo and Muhammad remained asleep in the car. The SWAT team broke the windows and threw in stun grenades, he said. The snipers were captured within seconds — roughly two hours after Smith received the initial call.

“They didn’t have a chance to put up a fight,” he said. “The whole thing couldn’t have worked any better.”

During the operation, officers blocked off both sides of I-70 and the entrance and exit to the rest stop, Smith said. A helicopter hovered overhead to track Malvo and Muhammad in case they tried to flee on foot.

Before their capture, the snipers reigned over a wave of terror that forced gas station owners to board up their windows and parents to shield their children while walking them to school.

Smith said troopers from across the state were ordered to Montgomery County to act as an extra set of eyes, foster a sense of security and “provide an alternate target” for the snipers.

“Everyone was more than willing to carry out that mission,” he said.

Smith, 48, said he retired as a state trooper on June 1, 2010, after 27 1/2 years of service. He lives in Smithsburg and works in security at the U.S. Coast Guard Operations Systems Center in Martinsburg, W.Va.

He said taking part in the capture of the snipers was the highlight of his law-enforcement career.

Malvo, who was 17 at the time of the shootings, is serving a life sentence in a Virginia prison.

Muhammad was executed on Nov. 10, 2009. He was 48.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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