Officer who died in crash distracted by film crew, report says
Cruiser slammed into back of fire engine in West Baltimore
By Peter Hermann, The Baltimore Sun
4:47 PM EST, January 25, 2011
Officer Thomas Portz Jr., 32, did not suffer a medical problem, and officials found no mechanical defects in the police car, a 2009 Chevrolet Impala. The report says Portz, a 10-year veteran assigned to the Western District, was not wearing his seatbelt.
The report, obtained by The Baltimore Sun under the Public Information Act, concludes that the only likely cause of the crash was that Portz "had his attention diverted to the westbound side" of U.S. 40 "where a film crew was filming a movie."
The Oct. 20 accident occurred shortly before 10 a.m. on the elevated highway that connects downtown to West Baltimore, allowing cars to bypass residential streets. The highway is being dismantled; at the time of the crash, the eastbound lanes were open and the westbound lanes were closed. All lanes are now closed.
A crew filming the final scene for an independent comedy called "The Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best" was using the westbound lanes. The Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts had issued the crew the necessary permits, and off-duty city officers were helping with security.
Just before the accident, the city Fire Department received a call for a sick person in the area. Firefighters on Engine 8 were stopped in the eastbound lane of U.S. 40, near the Stricker Street footbridge, looking for the source of the call.
Portz was driving east on U.S. 40, and the report concludes that he was probably looking at the film crew and didn't see the stopped fire engine. Police identified the firefighter driving the engine only as a 41-year-old male.
The report says Portz, who was not responding to an emergency call at the time, had been speeding at 71 mph — the speed limit is 50 mph on that portion of roadway — but slammed on his brakes 2.5 seconds before impact. Detective Patty A. Baur, a traffic collision reconstruction expert with the police crash team, said in the report that the police car was traveling 62 mph a split-second before impact.
Police cars are equipped with event data recorders — similar to the "black box" on airplanes — which keep track of speed, braking and other attributes. There were no skid marks at the scene.
Authorities said they have not located the source of the original "sick person" call to the Fire Department. Police said on Tuesday that the call did not originate with members of the film crew, who witnessed the accident and filmed part of its aftermath.
Portz lived in Pennsylvania and is survived by a wife and three children. He was the third active-duty Baltimore police officer killed within one month.