Charred remains, believed to be a Montgomery County man reported killed two weeks ago in a gasoline tanker truck fire on I-66 near Front Royal, Va., have been identified as the bones of a pig.
Lawrence Angel, a forensic anthropologist at the Smithsonian Institution called into the case by Virginia medical authorities, said yesterday "there is absolutely no question" that the remains found in the cab of an Exxon gasoline truck are bones that came from "one ham or maybe two."
Virginia state police said yesterday they found no trace of human remains in the wreckage of an 8,900-gallon tanker truck that had been driven by Roman M. Leimer, 39, of Burtonsville.
Police said it is not known whether Leimer, an Austrian-born wine importer and an Exxon employe, is dead or alive.
"I can't sit here and say there was not a human being in that truck," said Trooper Ronkeith Kirtley, who had spoken to the driver only 15 minutes before the Jan. 13 blaze broke out. "All I can say is that no human remains were found."
The remains found in the fire, which occurred around 1 a.m. about two miles west of Front Royal where the interstate cuts through hilly farmland, had been initially identified by police and reported by the Associated Press as Leimer.
A funeral home in Front Royal told The Washington Post that Leimer was dead. An obituary, with information furnished by Deedee Adams, a longtime friend of the family, appeared in The Post Jan. 18, noting that Leimer was survived by his wife, Antonia, his son Andreas and his daughters, Angelika and Juliet.
The same day, Leimer was memorialized at a crowded service at St. Andrews Catholic Church in Wheaton.
At the family-owned Romax Importers warehouse in Jessup last night, Andreas Leimer, 19, voiced surprise when told by a reporter that remains found in the wreck were not human.
He said Virginia troopers had told him his father was smoking a cigarette shortly before the fire. "Knowing Dad, he probably lit up again when he got into the cab and the fumes could have come into the cab and blown up in his face," Leimer said.
Reached later at the family's home on a rural cul-de-sac in Burtonsville, Juliet Leimer, 16, said that her mother was not available for comment. She added: "I'd really rather not talk about it."
The mystery surrounding the fate of Roman Leimer baffled friends and neighbors, who joined police in wondering whether Leimer had perished in the fire or had disappeared some other way.
"There's other people I can imagine doing that deliberately disappearing , but he wasn't the type," said Adams who once lived next door to the Leimers. "I've known them 10 years. We'd drank a lot of Austrian wine together."
Trooper Kirtley said he just had started his shift Jan. 13 when, about 12:30 a.m., he came upon a man in an Exxon uniform standing "10 or 15 yards" behind a tanker truck parked on the interstate shoulder.
"I asked him why he was standing there. He said he was taking a smoke break and would move on," said Kirtley.
Responding to a call 15 minutes later, Kirtley said he found the tanker truck, standing upright, engulfed in flames near the spot he saw it the first time.
He said there were no skid marks indicating that the driver had applied the brakes. Kirtley said the bones were covered with charred flesh and looked like two shoulder bones and a knee bone.
Police declined to speculate on what happened to Leimer, saying their investigation was continuing.
Andreas Leimer said his father's remains were cremated and placed in an urn. Angel said he mailed the remains that he had examined back to Northern Virginia medical authorities yesterday morning.
Within 24 hours after the fire, neighbor Jane Curran said that Leimer's wife "Tony" had told her that she thought her husband might have had a heart attack. Leimer, short and heavy, had complained for two weeks of chest congestion and pains in his arm, Curran said she was told.
Leimer was well known in the Baltimore-Washington German community and a member of a Baltimore Lions Club, a friend said.
"I couldn't even tell you the slightest clue that would make me think it was anything else but that he died in a fire," said Deedee Adams. "This was a guy, once you met him, you felt you knew him. He looked like a jolly old elf. His appearance was like his personality.'