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Traffic Charges Filed Against Germantown Driver Involved in Fatal I-270 Crash

A Germantown man has been charged with negligent driving for his role in the fatal crash which took the lives of two law enforcement officers on I-270 last year.

Maryland State Police announced that they have filed traffic charges against Robert A. Garza Palacios, 28 of Germantown, who was identified as the driver of the vehicle involved in the collision.

After a review of the investigation by the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office, it was determined Garza Palacios was to be charged with negligent driving, a violation of Transportation Article 21-901.1(b), said the Maryland State Police in a press release. When contributing to an accident, this charge carries a penalty of a $280 fine and three points. Garza Palacios met with State Police at the Rockville Barrack in mid-April and was issued the citation. Signing the citation is not an admission of guilt.

The charge is a result of the investigation by the Maryland State Police Crash Team into a crash that occurred at about 10:00 pm on December 8, 2017, on southbound I-270, north of Falls Road. Deputy Chief State Fire Marshal Sander Cohen of the Maryland Office of the State Fire Marshal and FBI Special Agent Carlos Wolff, were both killed in the crash.

Deputy Chief State Fire Marshal Cohen was off-duty and driving south on I-270 when he came upon Special Agent Wolff’s personal vehicle disabled in the travel lane. He immediately called the Maryland State Police Rockville Barrack for assistance and blocked the damaged vehicle with his own, while activating his emergency flashers in an attempt to safeguard the scene. The actions of Deputy Chief State Fire Marshal Cohen placed him in an official on-duty status at that time.

Both Deputy Chief State Fire Marshal Cohen and Special Agent Wolff moved to the shoulder of the fast lane. The investigation showed a southbound 2000 Honda Accord, driven by Garza Palacios, swerved to the left of the stopped vehicles because he was unable to move to the right due to traffic. The Honda struck both men as they stood on the highway shoulder. Both victims were thrown over the jersey wall to the northbound side of I-270.

Due to the extensive crash scenes on both sides of I-270, both sides of the highway had to be closed. Multiple fire and rescue agencies from Montgomery County and jurisdictions within responded and assisted at the scene.

Palacios stopped his vehicle just south of the crash and remained at the scene. The investigation found that alcohol, drugs and speed were not factors in this crash.

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 3. Bethesda Beat is reporting that Cohen was a graduate of Winston Churchill High School and lifelong resident of Rockville.

“Deputy Chief Cohen had no idea who was inside the vehicle he stopped behind,” Maryland State Police Superintendent Colonel William Pallozzi said in the days following he crash. “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.”

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 ended up hitting both men as they stood on the shoulder of southbound I-270.

Photos courtesy MCFRS.

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