Hours after a vehicle zoomed off I-83 this afternoon, killing a city employee who had just left work, the black Acura was still upside-down in front of City Hall, passersby were wondering whether a police chase was to blame and people who knew Matthew S. Hersl were recalling him as “one of the community’s really good guys.”
That was City Councilman James Kraft’s assessment, as he headed into the nearby War Memorial Building for Taxpayers’ Night.
“He was one of those people you just see everywhere. It’s like there were copies of him around town. I’d be in Canton, I’d see Matthew. I’d be downtown, I’d see Matthew,” Kraft said, visibly shaken.
“He walked everywhere. I don’t know if he had a car. I don’t know if he ever slept.” Camden Yards was another place to see Hersl, Kraft added: “He was a huge Orioles fan.”
Hersl, 45, who was active in his Little Italy neighborhood and was employed by the city for 28 years, worked for the Department of Finance in the collections office, according to city records.
City Finance Director Harry E. Black, approached on his way to Taxpayers’ Night for comment on the loss of one of his employees, declined to speak of him. “You’ll have to talk to Ryan or Ian,” Black said, referring to mayoral spokesmen Ryan O’Doherty and Ian Brennan.
Kraft, by contrast, spoke about Hersl at length. “Look, I have an email from him,” he said, showing a reporter an invitation to the Little Italy Property Owners Association from Hersl that reached Kraft at 12:12 p.m. It offered food and drink and said “all of your office is welcome.” The meeting, scheduled for tonight, was canceled, he said.
City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, presiding over Taxpayer’s Night, asked for “a moment of silence for Matthew Hersl” and he bowed his head, as did other city officials at the table, including Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, and an audience of about 150 people.
“He was a city employee for 28 years getting off from work and lost his life,” Young said.
Shock and Unanswered Questions
In the early evening, Maryland State troopers and Baltimore City police were still assessing the somewhat surreal scene.
Yellow police tape cordoned off the area where the careening car had, by all accounts, swung too wide making a left off Holliday Street onto East Lexington Street. The upside-down Acura – and the large tree and large utility pole it had toppled – were still there.
According to the Maryland State Police, the so-far-unidentified Acura driver had been southbound on I-83 moving at a high rate of speed when it came up on a trooper’s vehicle, almost striking it.
The car then exited at Pleasant Street and the trooper followed, but didn’t “chase” it with lights and siren.
But an eyewitness interviewed by the Baltimore Sun said the trooper was chasing the Acura, driving fast with lights flashing and and siren blaring.
Michelle Lee, who had been in a meeting at City Hall when she got a news alert text on her phone about the crash, was concerned about the possible police chase angle.
“This is just horrible,” she said, looking at the wrecked car. “If it turns out this was one of those high-speed chases, that is going to be even more horrible and a really big deal.”
She used a phrase several passersby did today.
“It just goes to how fragile life is,” Lee said. “All he was trying to do was go home after a hard day’s work.”