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Horrific I-270 Crash Kills Two Off-Duty Law Enforcement Officers

A Germantown resident was driving the vehicle which struck and killed two off-duty law enforcement officers — one a Maryland State Fire Marshall and the other a Special Agent with the FBI — on I-270 Friday night.

According to the Maryland State Police, two off-duty law enforcement officers were killed when they were struck while standing on the shoulder of I-270 in Montgomery County at the scene of a traffic crash.

The first victim is identified as Deputy Chief State Fire Marshal Sander B. Cohen, 33, of the Office of the State Fire Marshal. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

The second victim is identified as Supervisory Special Agent Carlos Wolff, 36, of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He was transported to Suburban Hospital where he was pronounced dead.

The preliminary investigation indicates that at about 10:00 pm. Friday evening, Deputy Chief Cohen called the Maryland State Police Rockville Barrack and reported he was out with what appeared to be a single-vehicle traffic crash in the fast lane of southbound I-270, north of Gude Drive. He observed a 2002 Acura MDX SUV that was damaged and disabled in the travel portion of the highway. Deputy Chief Cohen requested assistance and blocked the approach to the damaged vehicle with his personal vehicle and activated his emergency flashers. His actions placed him in an official capacity at that time.

The driver of the damaged vehicle identified himself as Special Agent Wolff. Both men moved to the shoulder of the fast lane, where they were standing when the southbound Honda Accord approached the scene.

The investigation indicates that 2000 Honda Accord was traveling southbound, and the Accord swerved to the left, apparently to avoid the vehicles in lane one and struck both men on the shoulder. Both men were thrown over the jersey wall to the northbound side of I-270, where it appears at least one of them was struck by a 2017 Acura ILX which was traveling northbound.

The driver of the Accord that struck the victims is identified as Roberto A. Garza Palacios, 28, of Germantown. Passengers in his vehicle are identified as Mirelia Y. Barcena Mormontoy, 23, of Germantown and Ada G. Sandoval Cortez, 32, of Clarksburg. All three were transported to area hospitals.

The driver of an involved 2017 Acura ILX is identified as Brittany A. Waters, 32, of Clarksburg. She did not report being injured.

The cause of the initial crash involving Special Agent Wolff’s vehicle remains under investigation. Evidence indicates that for reasons unknown at this time, the vehicle struck the concrete barrier on the left side of the highway and became disabled in the fast lane.

Due to the extensive crash scenes on both sides of I-270, both sides of the highway had to be closed. Traffic was diverted off at exits prior to the scene. Detours were set up and operated by personnel from the Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration. All lanes were reopened at about 6:00 am Saturday morning. Multiple fire and rescue agencies from Montgomery County and jurisdictions within responded and assisted at the scene.

Deputy Chief State Fire Marshal Sander Cohen had been a member of the Office of the State Fire Marshal for nine years. In January of this year, State Fire Marshal Brian Geraci appointed him Regional Commander of the Northern Regional Office. He was responsible for supervising fire investigations in Carroll, Harford, and Cecil counties.

Cohen was a decorated fire marshal who had repeatedly been acknowledged for his outstanding service to the people of Maryland. In addition to his service as a deputy state fire marshal, he was also an active member of the Rockville Volunteer Fire Department, Station 33. Bethesda Beat is reporting that Cohen was a graduate of Winston Churchill High School and lifelong resident of Rockville.

“Deputy Chief State Fire Marshal Sander Cohen was an exemplary investigator and leader who took great pride in his law enforcement career and who devoted himself to protecting and serving the citizens of Maryland,” Maryland State Fire Marshal Brian Geraci said. “Sander will be missed by all those who had the pleasure of knowing him. We will forever keep the Cohen family in our thoughts and prayers.”

“Deputy Chief Cohen had no idea who was inside the vehicle he stopped behind,” Maryland State Police Superintendent Colonel William Pallozzi said. “He just recognized that someone needed help and he never hesitated last night to stop and help someone in need. Deputy Chief State Fire Marshal Sander Cohen has now joined the ranks of Maryland’s Fallen Heroes.”

There is no preliminary indication of alcohol involvement in these crashes. The causes of the initial and subsequent crashes remain under investigation by the Maryland State Police Crash Team.

No charges have been filed at this time. Upon completion of the investigation, it will be presented to the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office for review.


Top: Montgomery County Fire Rescue Service units on the scene of a horrific accident with took the lives to two off-duty law enforcement officers in the express lanes of I-270 in both northbound and southbound between Falls Road and Gude Drive.

Next: The 2002 Acura MDX SUV driven by Special Agent Wolff which was the vehicle involved in the first collision, which caused Deputy Chief Cohen to stop to render assistance.

Next: The 2000 Honda Accord driven by Roberto A. Garza Palacios, 28, of Germantown which swerved to avoid the Deputy Chief Cohen’s and Special Agent Wolff’s vehicles, and end up hitting both men as they stood on the shoulder of southbound I-270.

Photos courtesy MCFRS.