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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Talk with Man Who Spotted Car

Aired October 24, 2002 - 07:43   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to check in with a man named Larry Blank right now, who happened to be at that site of the rest stop where this arrest came down.
Larry, good morning -- thanks for joining us.

Can you describe to us what you saw last night, or I guess it was in the wee hours of the morning?

LARRY BLANK, MAN WHO SPOTTED CAR: I actually didn't see much. I just happened to park next to the vehicle without really noticing it was the vehicle they was looking for. And I ran into another man that actually did the calling.

ZAHN: Now, were you aware of the descriptions of this car...

BLANK: Yes, I was.

ZAHN: ... this Caprice?

BLANK: Yes, I was aware of it.

ZAHN: And what went...

BLANK: Because I had just arrived at midnight. I was going to come inside and log in, before I go checking the parking lot.

ZAHN: Oh, I see. So, you were -- you one of the attendants on duty?

BLANK: Yes.

ZAHN: You were.

BLANK: Yes, I am the attendant on duty from midnight to 8:00.

ZAHN: OK. And so, you see this car. How did you know the other man was going to make the call to police?

BLANK: About 1:00, I heard a lot of -- about 1:00, I heard a lot of noise on my scanner, activity from my scanner. And then, I noticed that the exit ramp was blocked with trucks. So, I went walked up there, and the man in the white van that did the actual calling rolled his window down, and I asked him what was going on, and he asked me to get in the van and lock the door.

He was on the telephone with the police, and it was a cell phone. And they told him to tell me to stay put. Then, we had a little conversation about, you know, that he was the one that reported the vehicle to the police.

ZAHN: Wow! So, you actually heard the whole conversation that this man had with police when he alerted them to the Caprice being there. What did he say?

BLANK: Well, he was real exciting -- and nervous and excited about the same time, I guess. He was trying to make the police understand, and I guess the police, you know, surrounded the whole rest area, and told us we needed to stay put, that they was going to have ATF -- all kinds of people come running in there.

ZAHN: Was the man who was in the van nervous when he talked to police?

BLANK: Yes, he was. He was nervous, yes. And he had to...

ZAHN: And how about you?

BLANK: The whole time, he had to keep the cell phone open with a police officer the whole time, because they was asking questions back and forth, and they wanted to know if I knew how many vehicles was in the parking lot and things like this. So I give them more details, but all I could do is tell them, you know, how many vehicles was in the parking lot and things like that, where my vehicle was parked at -- things like that.

ZAHN: Now, was it the police that told him to lock the doors of the van and have the two of you stay there until they got in place?

BLANK: Exactly,.

ZAHN: Now, was either one of you armed?

BLANK: No.

ZAHN: And did -- after the man in the white van hung up with police, did you talk about how vulnerable the two of you might be not having any idea of who these two men in the car could be in relationship to the sniper investigation?

BLANK: That's right. We were hoping they were the ones that they were looking for, so the whole thing would be over.

ZAHN: We're looking at pictures now, Mr. Blank, of what transpired many minutes after that call. Can you remember exactly what you saw when the first police officers arrived on the scene? What did it look like?

BLANK: We didn't -- we didn't actually see any police officers for a while, you know, until they actually stormed the parking lot of where the vehicle was. Then after that, then there were helicopters, there were, you know, police cars everywhere. And they wanted to interview us, you know, quite a bit. ZAHN: And, Mr. Blank, from where you were in the white van, or even before you got in the white van, could you ever see the guys in the car? I know...

BLANK: No.

ZAHN: ... we have been told they were sleeping.

BLANK: They were pointing the other direction. The vehicle was in the car lot, and we was the truck lot. That's quite a distance away.

ZAHN: Wow! Let me ask you this. Before you came on duty as the attendant at the rest stop for the night, had you been given any kind of warning from any law enforcement officials that there could be a dragnet on that particular stretch of the freeway?

BLANK: No. But everybody had talked about it, and was concerned for my safety. My wife and neighbors and the kids talked about it, you know, that these people could stop here.

ZAHN: Well, as now that -- I'm sure you never got to sleep last night, but as you think back to what it was like in the van before the Caprice was stormed, you've got to feel like a pretty lucky guy today, huh?

BLANK: Yes, I do, I do. I'm glad I didn't wander around like I usually do. I usually wander around with a flashlight and check vehicles that I see may be unattended.

ZAHN: Well, I know...

BLANK: I never got a chance to do that, though.

ZAHN: Well, I know that you haven't gotten any sleep. We really appreciate your joining this morning to tell us what happened as this arrest came down. I can't imagine anything more intimidating than being on duty like that and having a total stranger to you say he thinks that is the car involved in the sniper investigation, and meanwhile, you have to lock yourselves in the van before the police arrive on the scene.

Thank you for taking us back to that moment, Larry. Best of luck to you, and I hope your days at work are much calmer from this time on.

BLANK: OK, thank you.

ZAHN: Our pleasure.

Let's check in with Bob Franken now, who is just across the street from that rest area.

So, Bob, I guess that's our first eyewitness account of what it must have been like to be there last night at the time of this police action. Have you learned anything else?

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's certainly not your typical night for Larry Blank.

Well, we do know, of course, that the vehicle is still there, and they are going to, at some point, remove it. We are being told that it's going to be taken to Montgomery County, but there has already been a search.

You can see over behind me several state police cars, and the larger van is, in fact, an evidence van, and it's been busy in the night looking for the kind of evidence that they would preliminarily look for.

Of course, they also have to get a search warrant before they can really give it a thorough going over.

There is one news report out there that a weapon was found on the scene -- a weapon was found in the car, but they're going to be looking much closer to analyze very closely everything, of course.

The whole event happened starting about 1:00 when, as you heard, a motorist, who had been hearing all of the broadcast reports, called state police to say that this vehicle was there. The two people were sleeping in it.

The state police operated in a very methodical way. They put together their tactical unit, assembled a short distance away. It took them a couple of hours to do that before they swooped down on the vehicle and made their arrests. They were done without incident, because obviously they had the advantage of surprise.

You can see here where the state police units were gathering. This is tape from WUSA, a Washington television station. They were gathering to do a very methodical, a very tedious operation to try and do it without harm to anybody, and they were able to pull that off.

Just to make sure that we place this area, this is an area about 50 miles to the north of Washington on Interstate 70, about 40 miles away from Pennsylvania. It is a rural area, Myersville, Maryland, as the motorists would probably call it in the middle of nowhere. But of course, right now, it is the center of a story that has become such a huge story, because of the sniper killings that have just terrorized an area to the north of Washington and far to the south -- Paula.

ZAHN: Bob, if you would, take us back to the moment that this Caprice first came under the radar of law enforcement officials. We had never heard this early on in the investigation. We had heard about box trucks, white vans with ladders on the top.

FRANKEN: And there is some question about whose vehicle this is. This might be somebody -- a vehicle that belongs to a family member of the two people who have been arrested -- something like that.

But that's always been a real frustration for police officials. They were looking for a certain type of vehicle, one that you see all of time, and when they would have their massive roadblocks, they would have no success with their searches in finding anything in either the white vans or the white box vans.

As a matter of fact, after the shooting on Tuesday morning in Montgomery County, they were searching all vehicles. They weren't being so precise. But of course, as you point out, this was nothing like what they had originally been searching for.

ZAHN: Bob Franken, thanks so much. We'll be checking in with you throughout the morning.

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