This story was updated at 2 p.m. Dec. 9. It also was updated at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 11 to clarify the location of the crash.
Two off-duty law enforcement officers were killed Friday night when one stopped to help the other after a crash on Interstate 270 in Rockville and they were struck by other vehicles.
Sander B. Cohen, a deputy chief with the Office of the State Fire Marshal and a lieutenant with the Rockville Volunteer Fire Department, had pulled over to help Carlos Wolff, an FBI special agent.
Wolff’s 2002 Acura MDX SUV struck a Jersey barrier on southbound 270 and bounced into the fast lane at around 10 p.m. Cohen approached the crash scene, alerted authorities and asked for assistance, then stopped his vehicle before Wolff’s vehicle and turned on the emergency flashers, as an alert to oncoming traffic, police said.
Wolff and Cohen got out of their vehicles and stood in the shoulder next to the fast lane.
However, an approaching vehicle swerved to the left to avoid the vehicles, which were in the fast lane, and hit Wolff and Cohen, state police said Saturday morning during a press conference in Rockville.
The men were knocked over the Jersey barrier into northbound traffic, where Cohen was struck by another vehicle.
Cohen was pronounced dead at the scene and Wolff was pronounced dead at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda.
The first crash happened on southbound I-270, south of the Falls Road exit. It was not clear what happened to Wolff’s vehicle to cause it to hit the concrete barrier.
Police said a 2000 Honda Accord driven by Roberto A. Garza Palacios, 28, of Germantown struck Cohen and Wolff on southbound 270, knocking them over the barrier.
Palacios and passengers in his car — Mirelia Y. Barcena Mormontoy, 23, of Germantown and Ada G. Sandoval Cortez, 32, of Clarksburg — were taken to area hospitals for treatment.
On northbound 270, Cohen was hit by an Acura ILX driven by Brittany Waters, 32, of Clarksburg.
Police said alcohol does not appear to be a factor.
At a press conference Saturday morning, Maryland State Police Col. William Pallozzi, center, and Gordon Johnson of the FBI address the death of two law enforcement officers. Credit: Andrew Metcalf
“Deputy Chief Fire Marshal Sander Cohen never hesitated to act last night,” Maryland State Police Colonel William Pallozzi said Saturday morning. “He stopped, he helped someone in need and now he has joined the ranks of Maryland’s fallen heroes.”
Pallozzi said Cohen’s actions placed him in an official capacity and they are considering his death as in the line of duty.
Gordon Johnson, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Baltimore Field Office, described Wolff as an experienced agent.
“The loss will be felt by the entire FBI family and our thoughts and prayers are with the Wolff family and friends,” Johnson said. “This is an extremely sad day for all of us who protect and serve the community. Please pray for the law enforcement community in Maryland.”
Wolff, 36, had worked for 11 years in the investigative division at the FBI’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., according to Johnson.
The state fire marshal’s office is a division of the Maryland state police.
Greg Shipley, a state police spokesman, said the vehicle struck the two men minutes after Cohen and Wolff had exited their vehicles. He said an investigation is underway to determine why Palacios swerved as he approached the officers’ vehicles.
“[It] will take some time until our crash team can come up with its calculations, collect all the evidence and examine the evidence that’s been collected,” Shipley said.
He said no one was taken into custody following the fatal crash.
Cohen, 33, of Germantown, was with the fire marshal’s office for nine years. He was remembered in a post on the Rockville Volunteer Fire Department website. The post said the Winston Churchill High School graduate grew up in Rockville.
“We come to work to help others and providing patient care on one of our own is the worst of the circumstances we could ever face,” Montgomery County Fire Chief Scott Goldstein said. “Last night, that was the case. We didn’t know that he was involved until we arrived. As we were operating on the scene, we treated everyone, and we were starting to learn that one of the members involved was one of our own.”
“It’s a heavy burden to weigh on those participants involved,” Goldstein said. “We’re grouping together, rallying together to support each other and going through the grieving process to then be able to move into the healing process.”
Goldstein said Cohen’s actions represented what any firefighter would have done.
“All indications is that they were in the most opportune place they could be—on the shoulder next to the Jersey wall—when tragically that other vehicle came down and struck them,” Goldstein said. “That roadway is so big there, that roadway is so dangerous there that they were in the place they needed to be to be out of harm’s way as much as possible.”
Cohen joined the volunteer fire department in 2003. He was a Thursday shift leader and previously a member of the volunteer department’s board of directors.
“He will be sorely missed by his many friends within the fire/rescue and law enforcement communities,” the post on the Rockville Volunteer Fire Department website says.
Much of I-270 was closed until 6 a.m. Saturday while investigators worked at the scene.
Gov. Larry Hogan posted on Twitter: “The First Lady and I are heartbroken to learn of the tragic loss of two law enforcement officers who were struck and killed last night on I-270. We are praying for their families and loved ones in this time of grief.”
He added: “FBI Supervisory Special Agent Carlos Wolff & Lt. Sander Cohen, deputy chief of MD State Fire Marshal’s Office & member of Rockville Vol Fire Dpt, served our communities every day to keep families safe. We thank these officers for their selfless dedication to our state & nation.”
Sadly, @mcfrs learned this morning of the untimely passing of Sander Cohen, a Lieutenant w/ the Rockville Volunteer Fire Department & a Deputy Chief w/ MD State Fire Marshal’s Office, Maryland State Police. – he was involved in a collision on I270 near Falls Rd 12/8 ~10p pic.twitter.com/8t7lIYgzc5
— Pete Piringer (@mcfrsPIO) December 9, 2017
I-270 main lanes in #Rockville are shut down for a serious crash which appears to be fatal. Police are currently directing #mdtraffic into local lanes to get past scene. Expect a lengthy closure #BreakingNews pic.twitter.com/wNsadFAwsK
— Brad Freitas (@Chopper4Brad) December 9, 2017