Suspicious vehicle in Baltimore was part of scheme to steal diesel fuel, police say

Authorities rope off the intersection of Pratt and Charles streets in downtown Baltimore Monday afternoon.
Authorities rope off the intersection of Pratt and Charles streets in downtown Baltimore Monday afternoon. (WTOP/Chris Cichon)

An evacuation was lifted and streets were reopened late Monday afternoon after a scare in downtown Baltimore that was caused by a suspicious fuel-filled van in a parking garage.

That vehicle — parked in the 100 block of East Pratt Street — was not some explosive device, police later said. Rather, it was being used in a scheme to steal diesel fuel.

The scare began early Monday, after the vehicle was parked on the second floor of the garage. WBAL-TV reported that a security person had alerted authorities after detecting a strong smell of gasoline, which other passersby reportedly also smelled.

“Once police realized how much was inside, that’s when they began evacuating a number of buildings in and around it,” WBAL radio’s Phil Yacuboski told WTOP’s Shawn Anderson and Hillary Howard.

Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young said early Monday afternoon that it contained an estimated 1,000 gallons of gasoline. Baltimore police have since said they aren’t sure how much it contains.

Authorities dispatched a robot that found “some cables running to it” that made it look as though “it was probably going to be something more serious,” Baltimore police Col. Richard Worley told reporters late Monday afternoon.

“They had blacked out the windows of the van, so we couldn’t see in it until we got up close enough, and then when the bomb technicians realized that there was wiring running back to it, they made entry into the van and saw that it was a rigged device to pump the diesel fuel out and then to take it and sell it somewhere else,” he said.

The incident put downtown Baltimore on edge for much of Monday — just two days before the 18th anniversary of 9/11 and three days before a visit from President Donald Trump. Buildings in the surrounding area were evacuated. Others in nearby buildings were asked to shelter in place.

The Inner Harbor promenade was closed between the Science Center and the World Trade Center. Also affected was The Gallery shopping mall and Harbor Place.

But later in the afternoon, reopened roads following a precautionary sweep of other nearby garages.

Jen Palmisano, who was in the Bank of America building at the intersection of East Pratt and Charles, said it had taken her nearly an hour simply to get her car out of the parking garage while the evacuation was in effect.

“Right now I’m on Charles Street trying to get out of the city but as you can imagine it’s been about an hour and I’m still exactly where I was an hour ago,” she said.

The building at 100 East Pratt houses offices for T. Rowe Price as well as PricewaterhouseCoopers.


Visit WTOP’s Traffic Center for the latest impacts on downtown Baltimore traffic.


WTOP’s Dick Uliano and The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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