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WEST MIDDLESEX, PA. Native helped nab sniper suspects



Published: Tue, February 11, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



The Shenango Valley native was the first police officer on the scene that night.

By HAROLD GWIN

VINDICATOR SHARON BUREAU

WEST MIDDLESEX, Pa. -- Maryland State Trooper Rob Draskovic didn't know the suspicious-car call he was sent to investigate Oct. 24 would lead to the arrest of two suspects accused in the sniper attacks that terrorized the greater Washington, D.C., area.

But Draskovic, a native of West Middlesex, wasn't surprised it turned out that way.

He had figured there was a good chance the person or people sought in a string of 10 homicides and three woundings at the time would eventually come to Frederick County, where he is stationed.

Frederick County is just north of Montgomery County, where the first shooting was investigated, and as the shootings went on over three weeks, it became clear that the shooter or shooters were mobile, he said.

That suspicious-vehicle call led to the early-morning arrests of suspects John Allen Muhammad, 42, and John Lee Malvo, 17, at a rest stop along Interstate 70 after Draskovic and others confirmed that the suspicious car was indeed the one authorities were looking for.

First on the scene

"It was my call originally," Draskovic, 41, recalled, adding that the vehicle call came in around midnight, only about an hour after Montgomery County authorities had broadcast a description of the vehicle thought to be carrying two people.

He said a second Maryland trooper arrived at the scene right behind him, and once they confirmed it was the car authorities had been looking for, they proceeded cautiously, not wanting to alert anyone in the car.

"We could see one person in the car, not two," he said.

Shortly thereafter, four other troopers arrived. Draskovic and the other troopers immediately sealed off access to the rest stop.

There were already about 40 trucks in the rest stop, and the troopers, knowing the suspects were possibly armed, didn't want to risk the public by getting into a gunbattle before backup units arrived, he said.

The arrest

While Malvo and Muhammad slept in their car, hundreds of police officers, including SWAT teams and snipers, converged on the location, Draskovic said, noting that he was on the scene for 21/2 hours before police finally made their move toward the car.

"They never saw us," he said, adding that the two men were still sleeping as officers approached and were pulled out of the car and put in handcuffs before they were really awake.

Draskovic put the handcuffs on Muhammad, who was then placed in his cruiser for transport to Rockville, Md. Malvo followed in a second cruiser.

Neither man said a word, not even to ask why they were being arrested, Draskovic recalled.

A search of their vehicle later turned up the rifle thought to have been used in many of the shootings that left a dozen people dead, he said.

Local connections

Draskovic's parents, Bob and Carol Draskovic, still live in the West Middlesex area.

Carol Draskovic said her son always wanted to be a police officer and was enrolled in a criminal-justice program at Youngstown State University when the offer to join the Maryland force came up.

He left school in his final semester to take the job, she said.

Carol said she found out about Rob's role in the arrest the evening after it happened, when she called his home in Hagerstown, Md. She spoke with his wife, Nancy, jokingly asking if she had single-handedly captured the sniper suspects.

"She said, 'No, but your son did,'" Carol recalled.

Rob Draskovic, a 1979 graduate of West Middlesex High School and a nearly 19-year veteran of the Maryland force, said he still hasn't completed his college work but is within nine credits of graduating with a degree in criminal justice and sociology.

Jobs were tough to find in the Shenango Valley back in the early 1980s, and he said he didn't want to pass up a chance to be a Maryland trooper.

Longtime aspiration

Being a police officer was something he had focused on since about the 10th grade, he said.

"I wanted to do something working with others and in a way I could be of assistance to others," he said.

He worked 51/2 years in drug enforcement in Maryland and was transferred to Frederick County for regular duty in 1990.

He holds the rank of trooper first class and said he never had any desire for administrative or desk work.

"It's still a fun job," he said.

Although Draskovic and five other troopers were honored for their involvement at the I-70 rest stop that night in October, he said he places no particular significance on the evening's events.

"The arrest, to me, was no different than any other arrests," he said, adding that he's made hundreds of them, including a number of arrests in homicide cases.

The only differences in this case were the amount of press attention it drew and that the suspects were sought in several homicides, he said.

Theory on motive

He wasn't impressed with suspects Muhammad and Malvo either.

"These were just common ordinary thugs," he said, theorizing that the slayings they are suspected of committing started as a thrill killing and eventually grew into an effort to extort money from authorities.

"There was nothing sophisticated about these guys," Draskovic said.

Both men are in custody in Virginia awaiting trial.




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