Officials give advice when stopped at area roadblocks

Motorists who get stuck in a police dragnet because of the Washington area sniper had better be prepared to wait.

Traffic backed up 30 miles after the Ashland shooting, and after the Home Depot shooting, Interstate 395 was full of people sitting on their hoods hanging out, their cars turned off. Some ran out of gas, said police and witnesses.

“Our advice would be, be prepared in your car at all times for any type of lane closure, not strictly because of the sniper shutdowns,” said Lucy Caldwell, spokeswoman for Virginia State police. She suggests taking a blanket — “It’s getting chilly.”

“Just follow the instructions of the police officer,” said police Officer Derek Baliles, of Montgomery County, where the morning rush-hour was brought to a halt by the latest sniper killing Tuesday.

The person they are after is “deadly and willing to hurt themselves or someone else to avoid capture. So we are going to have our weapons displayed.”

Can drivers help the police?

“No quick surprise movement or nothing like that,” nor fumbling with an object under the front seat, hiding something or putting something in the trunk, he said.

“Just sit there. Listen to the radio,” he said. And watch for suspicious activity.

“It’s important for people sitting there to still be observant,” he said. Motorists should call #77 for the Virginia State Police or 911 for local police if they observe anyone trying to escape the dragnet, he said.

Total gridlock is a proven tactic for catching criminals such as bank robbers, he said. Some people who have committed crimes unrelated to the sniper shootings may try to get out of the backup.

“What we want people to do is understand the reason why we’re doing it and I think everybody does,” Baliles said. “Yes, it is an inconvenience but they understand why.”

Caldwell said a cell phone is helpful. Regular vehicle maintenance and plenty of gas make good preparation for any kind of backup, which is not an uncommon occurrence for the region, she said.

Many in the community are still fearful of going to the gas station, but Caldwell responded: “What can you say? If you’re going to be driving, you have to have gas in it.”

Staff writer Chris Newman can be reached at (703) 878-8062.

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