"He's trying to get away!" shouted military policeman Phillip Hudspeth as a man who had been pulled over for erratic driving spun around and ran into the night while Hudspeth talked with a policeman and another MP.
The police raced after the man, but he outran them, leaping guardrails along the road, plunging down an embankment and into a stream. While police shouted and shone flashlights on the dark water, the man drowned.
These facts are dramatic enough, but the case is made more intriguing because the drowned man was Thomas W. Peet, 32, whose charges of police brutality in 1975 led to a massive federal and local investigations of the Prince George's County Police Department.
The investigation never resulted in any charges or indictments, but they made Peet's name well-known. And, according to his wife yesterday, the beating he allegedly received at the hands of county police may have prompted him to run to his death Sunday.
"He was frightened of them, scared of them," said Anna Peet. "Afraid they'd do the same thing they did before."
"He was panicked," she said.
But police think Peet may have had other reasons for running. They said he offered the policeman who stopped him Sunday someone else's driver's license, that he had no registration for the car he was driving, and that the license plates on the car had been stolen from a Laurel woman's car.
Anne Arundel police chief Ashley Bick made clear that there were no racial overtones in the Sunday case, as had been alleged in the 1975 incident. Officer Terry Wilson, who stopped Peet, a black, is black himself. "He is one of the nicest officers you can run up on. We've had nothing but compliments about him," Bick said.
The circumstances leading up to Peet's drowning early Sunday morning are similiar in some superficial respects, however, to those that led to his beating and arrest by Prince George's County police in December of 1975.
In that 1975 incident Peet, who lives in Laurel, had reportedly argued with officers who were trying to give him a ticket for illegal parking. A scuffle resulted, and witnesses said Peet was badly beaten.
Last Sunday night's incident -- in which he fled and was not beaten -- began about 1:30 a.m. when Anne Arundel County policeman Terry Wilson said he began following a car that was weaving erratically and had forced another car off Rte. 198 near Ft. Meade, Md.
Wilson said he turned on his siren and flashing lights and with some difficulty managed to stop Peet on a bridge. The officer had already radiode for MPs, as is customary when an incident occurs on a road running through the military reservation.
Wilson said Peet got out of his car and began walking toward him "like he was drunk," and when the two talked the officer said he could smell alcohol on Peet's breath.
"Peet was saying, "Give me a break I've got four kids, I just bought a house, I've got lots of bills to pay. . .' And he even offered me $5," said Wilson.
Wilson said he told Pete, "You're going to get into a lot of trouble. Put the money away and shut up."
At the same time, Wilson examined Peet's driver's license which police said yesterday turned out to belong to someone else.
When the MPs arrived, Wilson said, Peet started running and jumped into the Little Patuxent River which runs under Rte. 98 about 30 yards from where the policemen stood.
"Halt!" the officers shouted, according to MP Hudspeth. They chased Peet, but didn't follow him into the water. Instead, Hudspeth said, they positioned themselves on the bridge and on either side of the water, which was only about 10 yards across and perhaps 10 feet deep in an effort to surround Peet.
Hudspeth said it was very dark and, at first, only Wilson had a flashlight.Shining it on the murky water, Hudspeth said, they could see that Peet "went under and came back up about two seconds later."
Peet made no noise at all, Hudspeth said, while the officers shouted at him to give himself up.
"It appeared to me that he was coming up for air to try and get away again," said Hudspeth, explaining why it never entered his mind that Peet might be drowning.
"We thought he was swimming to the other side," said Wilson. "I saw his head once when I was on top of the bridge, but by the time I got to the other side I didn't see him any more."
Other military units soon arrived, Wilson said, and troops plunged into the water.He said he himself hadn't done that because he is frightened of snakes and had seen many snakes in the area.
When the men in the water and those searching elsewhere in the area failed to find Peet, police said, the water was dragged with grappling hooks and Peet's body found.
A Baltimore City medical examiner said after an autopsy that the official cause of death was drowning.
Wilson, who lives in Laurel, said that he had known Peet and that his reputation was one of someone "who considers himself the greatest. He gets in fights all the time."
Anna Peet said yesterday that her husband had a "nice personality. He's real nice to everybody."
In the 1975 case Peet was acquitted by a Prince George's County jury of all charges in connection with the incident.
He testified that he was driving home from work and noticed his nephew having car trouble near a 7-Eleven store in Laurel. Peet said he parked his car in the store's parking lot and went to help his nephew.
After he helped push his nephew's car from the road, Peet said, two county police officers called him over to their squad car and asked to see his license and registration. Police then started writing a ticket for running his car unattended, Peet said, and he refused to sign it. He said he did offer to go the police station with the officers.
The officers then allegedly pushed him up against the patrol car and he agreed to sign the ticket. When he then tried to walk away from the car, police began hitting him, he said.
The officers involved testified that Peet became disorderly and tried to strike them with his car keys.
Witnesses testified that they only saw Peet on the ground being hit by the officers with nightsticks.
The FBI conducted a civil rights investigation of the incident at the request of the Justice Department, but no indictments were ever handed down as a result, special agent George Quinn of the FBI in Baltimore said yesterday.
Prince George's State's Attorney Arthur A. Marshall said in 1975 the case was a "prima facie case of excessive force" by police and took the case to a grand jury. Officials said yesterday that the grand jury found no criminal violations and that no officers were indicted.