By BALTIMORE SUN STAFF
BALTIMORE SUN |SEP 09, 2019 | 6:16 PM
Baltimore emergency officials evacuated a large area of downtown on Monday after an abandoned van loaded with containers of possibly-stolen gasoline was discovered in the parking garage of one of the city’s most venerable companies, officials said.
The widespread evacuation of T. Rowe Price and other firms in several high rise buildings downtown snarled traffic, sparked Sept. 11 anxiety and transformed the heart of the city’s business and tourist district into a crime scene tied off with yellow tape.
But a police robot that entered the 15-passenger van with blacked out windows did not discover a bomb. Instead, it found a device used for stealing diesel fuel and two bins full of possibly stolen gasoline, police said. Several city officials said they were told the van contained approximately 1,000 gallons of gasoline, but later estimates were far lower.
Downtown shut down
The van that was removed from the 100 East Pratt parking garage on the day when there was a multi-block evacuation in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor is towed away from the garage along Calvert St. (Lloyd Fox/Baltimore Sun)
The worrisome incident began shortly after 11 a.m. when police received a call about the suspicious vehicle in the parking garage of 100 E. Pratt St., home to T. Rowe Price, one of the city’s largest private employers. Officials cordoned off a four-block area north of where the Inner Harbor meets downtown as police and fire investigators conducted a sweeping search of surrounding parking garages.
Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young took to Twitter to dispel fears of a potential bomb.
“After several hours of investigating a suspicious vehicle, no bomb was detected,” Young tweeted. “We are currently in the process of conducting precautionary sweeps in an effort to ensure public safety. These sweeps are expected to take several hours.”
By around 6 p.m. the van with Pennsylvania plates that read “motor home” was towed from the 7th floor of the garage to the street. Police officers, firefighters and other government officials gathered around the van to examine the two large tanks and several hoses inside and to empty out the gas.
“I’ve never seen that much gas,” said Lewis Peterson, the tow truck driver.
Peterson said it took more than 20 minutes of cautious navigating to tow the van through the garage to the street.
“I had to be real careful because if something sparked it could have caught fire,” he said.
Baltimore’s arson unit is investigating but no suspects have been identified. The massive emergency response on Monday was aided by Capital police from Washington and U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers who were concerned for what they described as “elite visitors” expected to visit Baltimore on Thursday.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said on Twitter that “state law enforcement officials” were also assisting with the investigation.
“Thank you to the police and first responders who acted quickly to secure the area,” Hogan tweeted.
Nearly 1,000 T. Rowe Price employees were evacuated by Monday afternoon as the investment giant shifted trading operations to offices outside the city and worked to find alternative transportation for those whose cars were parked in the garage, said spokesman Brian Lewbart.
“Our first priority is for the safety of our associates,” Lewbart said. The company, which manages $1.07 trillion in assets, was still waiting as of 3 p.m. Monday about when employees could return to the building.
Baltimore officials investigating the van were assisted by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Baltimore Police Col. Sheree Briscoe told City Council members that officers had evacuated a four-block area around 100 East Pratt St. and were advising motorists and pedestrians to avoid the area while authorities investigate.
Not everyone was as patient.