‘I’m here to rescue you’: A Maryland CHART driver describes a day at work

A Maryland State Highway Administration truck was stolen Friday night, and the suspect led police on a chase that sped across two counties and hit more than a dozen vehicles before he was ultimately arrested.

The aerial shots of the chase were described as “unnerving” by WTOP traffic reporter Dave Dildine.

Devin Wilson has been a CHART driver for 10 years and takes pride and pleasure in his work. (Courtesy Devin Wilson)

“These are trucks that are usually our saviors, but in this case, it was wreaking havoc,” he said.

The vehicle that was stolen was part of the Maryland State Highway Administration’s fleet of CHART vehicles, trucks that are driven by people like Devin Wilson, whose formal title is “Emergency Response Technician.”

But to the people he assists every day, that description could also include “lifesaver.”

The CHART acronym stands for Coordinated Highways Action Response Team. According to the Maryland Department of Transportation website, a CHART truck operator is helping a driver every 14 minutes, and every 22 minutes, they’re managing traffic flow at a crash or emergency site.

There are 43 emergency patrol vehicles in the CHART fleet covering 2,000 miles of Maryland’s roadways.

On Tuesday, Wilson spoke to WTOP from inside his parked CHART vehicle, describing the work he does every day. “We assist the motoring public when they become disabled, we assist with traffic management on accident scenes,” and they reassure stranded drivers in all kinds of weather — day and night.

It’s Maryland’s CHART vehicles that respond when drivers hit #77 on their phones for assistance on the roadways. “But if you don’t dial #77, we’re on patrol 24/7 out here,” so drivers may still be assisted by a CHART employee, Wilson said with a smile.

Wilson has been a CHART driver for 10 years and takes pride and pleasure in his work.

When asked why he’s taken on fixing flat tires or towing disabled vehicles from highways where drivers speed past — sometimes well above the speed limit — Wilson didn’t hesitate to explain.

“It could be my family member that was out there,” in a broken-down vehicle by the side of the road, he said, adding, “I like to see the smile on a person’s face when I pull up and advise them that ‘hey, I can help you out.'”

The most cautious drivers can still end up needing help from CHART drivers when they’ve run out of gas or have a flat tire, said Wilson.

There’s a common thread among some drivers telling Wilson they believed their vehicle had enough gas to get to the next exit or they were counting the miles to the nearest gas station. Some drivers are slightly embarrassed by the situation, but Wilson tells them not to worry. “That’s why we’re here.”

“I’ve done it too, so I understand,” said Wilson. “I know how you’re stressed out, but I’m here to rescue you.”

Man arrested after stealing Maryland State Highway truck, sparking high-speed chase
CHART drivers also assist other first responders on the roadways, placing cones to create a safety zone for emergency workers, and even creating a buffer with their trucks. It is their job to protect them, while keeping the traffic flowing, Wilson said.

When asked about his toughest day on the job, Wilson recalled the day six highway workers — five contractors and one inspector — were killed in a crash within a work zone on Interstate 695 in Baltimore County in March of last year. Wilson says he was among the first on the scene.

Despite some of the hard times, Wilson said his best days on the job are every day he can assist what he calls “the motoring public.”

“To see that smile, and the kind gestures we get from customers — I love it,” he said.

“They don’t wear capes,” Dildine said. “They wear yellow reflective gear, but they’ll rescue you on the roadside if you’re stranded.”

Like the first responders they support, the CHART drivers are working to assist people a few feet away from busy highway traffic.

“I just ask everyone to slow down, pay attention and move over when you see emergency vehicles, disabled vehicles, anyone stopped on the shoulder,” Wilson requested of drivers. “When you see us out here, just slow down and be patient.”

The suspect in Friday’s wild chase, Flavio Cesar Lanuza, 27, of Laurel, Maryland, remained hospitalized Wednesday but was facing nearly two dozen initial traffic-related charges, according to online court records.

Lanuza is expected to go before a judge in the coming days where he could face more serious charges.

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Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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