Police Standoff Closed Capital Beltway

The Washington, D.C. Beltway was shut down this morning because of a police standoff with a Honda.

Maryland State Police closed the Capital Beltway in Prince George’s County for an hour at the height of rush hour this morning, snarling traffic for miles in both directions, after occupants of a apparently stolen car refused to leave the vehicle and identify themselves.

First Sgt. Russell Newell said a trooper on routine patrol about 8 a.m. spotted the gold Honda sedan stopped in the breakdown lane of the inner loop, between the exits for Route 1 and Kenilworth Avenue.
The trooper checked the license plates and found that the car had been reported stolen, then told the two people inside to disembark, Newell said. When they refused to do so, the trooper called for backup.
More than a dozen police vehicles sped to the scene. Officers crouched behind the open doors of their cars, trained their weapons on the Honda and shut down the eight-lane highway in both directions.

Traffic reporters said backups stretched as far as I-270 to the west and the Baltimore Washington Parkway to the east.

The tense standoff was capture on live television by a traffic helicopter working for Fox 5 News. According to the television footage, some commuters were able to pull off onto an access road, but hundreds of others were trapped with no place to go. “Because of the safety issues, we have to keep the Beltway closed,” Newell told Fox 5 about 8:30 a.m. He said officers were concerned that the occupants of the car might be armed.

At 8:53 a.m., a team of troopers and police dogs approached the sedan, wrestled two men out of the car and dragged them across several lanes of asphalt, cuffing their hands behind their backs. Both men were wearing blue jeans; one was in a bright yellow shirt, and the other’s shirt was white.

Police then searched the vehicle, and the Beltway was reopened about 9 a.m. Newell said it was not yet known whether the men were armed, or suspected of stealing the Honda. It was not immediately clear whether the men would be charged in connection with the incident.

One would think there would be a way to handle a potential stolen car, pulled over to the side of the road, without closing the major artery through the metropolitan area with the worst traffic in the country. The cost in lost man hours is simply mindboggling.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. DC Loser says:

    James – I should think you’ve lived in DC long enough to know such traffic gridlock incidents are almost annual rituals. Recall the Wilson Bridge jumper a few years ago that effectively shut down the beltway for almost an entire day? Or the spilled lumber or tar truck? The list goes on…..I’m glad I’m out of that ratrace, I work 15 minutes from home now.

  2. James Joyner says:

    It just strikes me as gobsmackingly stupid.

    There are certainly going to be times when public safety requires it. I get that, if a log truck dumps its contents in the street, the road has to be closed and the logs picked up.

    Some guy threatening to jump off a bridge? Sorry, the road doesn’t get closed for that.

    Two guys in a Honda that may or may not have been stolen? Park the trooper behind them and call for backup.

  3. DC Loser says:

    Or maybe the cops and firemen just get off on closing an entire interstate just because they can.

  4. James Joyner says:

    A possibility, to be sure.

  5. Don McArthur says:

    The assumption that John Q. Public has no interest or involvement in enforcing laws, and should bear no burden in the cause of law enforcement, is shortsighted, selfish and certainly not facilitative of community life.

  6. James Joyner says:


    There is always the issue of proportionality and burden commensurate with gain. Investigating a possible stolen car hardly warrants trapping tens of thousands of people in their cars for several hours.

  7. jamica says:

    Or maybe they saw two young black guys in a allegedly stolen vehicle and wanted them to make one wrong move so they could shoot them…….


  8. BT says:



    the story clearly states that the trooper ran the license plate and it came up stolen. Not only that but how do you know the occupants were black? Why is it that people always try to justify actions not commensurate with present circumstances with racism?!?! It was simply stupid for them to shut down the beltway… or maybe it was because they wanted all black workers to be late for work and get fired?!? LOL!!

    Ignorance runs deep in the blood of most.


  9. legion says:

    Actually, I find it impressive that a)MSP handled the entire situation in an hour and b) that was _still_ enough to screw traffic in the entire region for the day. There’s this thing callled “surge capacity” that city planners might want to think about… 🙂

  10. John Burgess says:

    I didn’t see anything in the story about whether or not police suspected that the car thieves were armed or not.

    I don’t have any problem waiting in stopped traffic if the alternative is to find myself in the middle of a crossfire with automatic weapons criss-crossing my right of way….

  11. James Joyner says:

    John: Aside from having captured an al Qaeda cell or something, why would car thieves commence shooting up the Beltway with automatic weapons fire?

  12. madmatt says:

    Great now auto theft will be used to pump up the fear factor…bin ladin has long said he only needs a beat up gold honda to take over the world!

  13. Thomas Donnelly says:

    Speaking of dangerous people, the most dangerous act I saw this morning was from the driver who kicked it into reverse at about 30 to 40 mph with stalled trafic to his left a jersey wall to the right and thousands of angry drivers directly behind in an attempt to get onto an exit ramp to Route 1.

  14. Stuck at Kenilworth says:

    It did seem like a bit of overkill. Firetrucks, ambulances, a dozen marked and unmarked cars speeding along the shoulder and the wrong way on the outer loop. One cop drove by with his mic open shouting “Stay in your car! Stay in your car!”. Our paramilitary police forces need to keep busy I suppose.