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Inspirational Prayer on I-70

The inspiring story of the truck driver who called in the D.C. snipers at a Maryland rest stop.

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Traffic on I-70 wasn’t too bad. I should have been enjoying myself that day last October, sitting up in the cab of my 18-wheeler, cruising through the Pennsylvania hills.

Thirty-six years as a trucker, and I still got a kick out of my rig. Bass Transportation bought this 600-horsepower tractor in 2000. I was the only one who drove it, and although I’d logged almost 400,000 miles, the cab was still so clean you could eat off the floor. If traffic held steady, I would make my usual run right on schedule, hauling a tanker of building compound from Ohio to Delaware, then deadheading back to my home in Ludlow, Kentucky.

But I didn’t make the run on time that day, for the same reason I wasn’t enjoying the trip. The Beltway sniper. The words hammered in my head. Eight dead and two wounded already and it didn’t look like there’d be an end to it. At any truck stop in the D.C. area, all we talked about was the white van the police were looking for. Schools were closed, people too scared to leave their homes. It weighed on me that this guy was out there getting ready to kill again. I knew what it was like to lose someone you love. Five years earlier my wife, Ruth, and I had lost our only son, Ron, to multiple sclerosis.

It was a pretty October day just like this one when he died. I knew when I got to the nursing home that something was up because there was a lot of hollering down the hall. “What’s going on?” I asked.

“It’s your son, Mr. Lantz,” a nurse said.

I hurried to Ron’s room. There was our boy sitting on the edge of his bed, hands raised over his head, praising the Lord. For more than a year he hadn’t been able to sit up on his own.

“I’m leaving here,” Ron said. “Someone’s coming through that door tonight to take me home.” Then he looked at me real hard. “Dad, I don’t want to be up in heaven waiting for you and you don’t make it.”

It wasn’t the first time he’d brought up the subject. Ron was a real committed Christian. My parents raised me in the faith, but somehow I’d drifted away. “I want you to go over to my church right now,” Ron went on. “Find my pastor and give your life to the Lord.”

Well, that’s exactly what I did. Afterward I went back to the nursing home and told Ron. I’m glad I had the chance, because somebody did come for my boy that night to take him home.

My life turned around. I got active in church. I headed the men’s fellowship, led retreats, was on the Sunday school board. I’d never start a run without kneeling by my bed at the rear of the cab and asking God to watch over Ruth.

After the sniper shot his first victims, I’d been praying about that too—that someone would stop this killing spree. It had gone on for 12 days already. Around 7:00 p.m., when I was about an hour and a half out of Wilmington, Delaware, the usual report came on the radio. Nothing new on the sniper. All they knew was that a white van might be involved.

I got to thinking about what I’d learned at church, how a bunch of people praying together can be more powerful than a person praying alone. What if I get on my CB, see if a few drivers want to pull off the road with me and pray about this?

I pressed the button on my microphone and said that if anyone wanted to pray about the sniper, he could meet me in half an hour at the eastbound 66-mile-marker rest area. A trucker answered right away. Then another and another. They’d be there. I hadn’t gone five miles before a line of trucks formed, some coming up from behind, others up ahead slowing down to join us. The line stretched for miles.

It was getting dark when we pulled into the rest area. There must have been 50 rigs there. We all got out of our cabs and stood in a circle, holding hands, 60 or 70 of us, including some wives and children. “Let’s pray,” I said. “Anyone who feels like it can start.” Well, the first one to speak up was a kid maybe 10 years old, standing just to my left. The boy bowed his head: “Our Father, who art in heaven…”

We went around the circle, some folks using their own words, others using phrases from the “Lord’s Prayer.” It seemed to me there was a special meaning where it says…deliver us from evil….”

The last person finished. We had prayed for 59 minutes. All those truckers adding an hour to their busy schedules!

Ten days later, October 23, I was making my Ohio-to-Delaware run again. There had been another killing and the sniper was no nearer to being caught.

Right from the start there was something different about my trip. In the first place, it was a Wednesday. I normally made my runs Tuesdays and Thursdays. But there was a delay at the loading dock so I told my pastor I’d have to miss our Wednesday night prayer meeting. “We’ll be praying for you,” he said.

The second thing that happened: I was stopped by the cops. Once was rare for me. This trip I was pulled over three times. Not for very long—they were just checking papers—but it made me late getting into Wilmington.

The next strange thing: Instead of catching a few hours of sleep, I headed back west as soon as my cargo was offloaded around 11:00 p.m. That wasn’t like me at all. I knew too many sad stories when a driver didn’t get enough sleep. It was like I had an appointment, like I couldn’t sleep even if I tried.

At midnight the Truckin’ Bozo show came on the air, a music and call-in program a lot of truckers listen to. There was news in the sniper case. There were two snipers, not one, and police now believed the guys were driving a blue 1990 Chevrolet Caprice with New Jersey plates, license number NDA-21Z. Not the white van we had all been looking for.

I wrote down the tag number. Just before 1:00 a.m., I reached the rest stop at the 39-mile-marker near Myersville, Maryland, only a few miles from where so many of us had made a circle and prayed. Westbound on I-70, this was the only rest area between Baltimore and Breezewood with a men’s room. I wasn’t going to pass that by.

And here was the last weird thing about that trip. The truck aisles were full. I’d never seen so many rigs at that stop, drivers asleep. Only thing I could do was swing around to the car section. I wouldn’t be long. Climbing down from my cab, I noticed a car in the No Parking zone. The light over the men’s room door was shining right on it. A blue Chevrolet Caprice.

There must be hundreds of blue Caprices out there. I looked closer: two men, one slumped over the wheel, asleep. Beyond the men’s room was a row of bushes. I crept behind them and squinted to make out the license number. Jersey plates. N…DA2…1…Z.

Quiet as I could, I climbed back in my rig. Better not use the CB in case those guys have one. I punched 911 on my cell phone. “I’m at the Myersville rest stop. There’s a blue Chevrolet Caprice here, Jersey license NDA-21Z.”

The operator asked me to hold. In a minute she came back with instructions. Wait there. Don’t let them see you. Block the exit with your truck if you can.

If an 18-wheeler can tiptoe, that’s what mine did. I blocked as much of the exit ramp as I could, but there was still room for a car to get by. Five minutes passed. Only one other driver was ready to roll. Soon as I told him what was happening, he pulled his rig alongside mine, sealing off the exit. I sat in my cab, looking out the side mirrors at that blue Caprice, expecting a shootout, thinking I ought to be scared and wondering why I wasn’t.

Five more minutes passed. I was afraid another truck or a car would drive up and honk for us to move it, waking the suspects, but no one stirred. The cops slid up so quiet I didn’t know they were there until suddenly it was like the Fourth of July with flash-grenades lighting up the night to stun the two men. FBI agents, state troopers, officers from the sheriff’s department swarmed the rest stop. Searchlights. Breaking glass. Shouts. The thump of helicopters, SWAT teams in night-vision goggles, running low, crouching, guns drawn.

Next thing I knew the two men were being led away. The police took down names and addresses of everyone who had been at the rest area. It was two and a half hours before we were free to go. Since I’d been blocking the exit, I was the first one out.

Five miles down the road I started shaking so bad I could hardly hold the wheel. Then I got to thinking about all the unusual things that had to happen for me to be at that place at that time and about my friends at church praying for me that same evening. And I couldn’t help thinking about my son, Ron, who’d led me to that church.

I looked in my rearview mirror at the line of trucks behind me and remembered leading another line of semis 10 days earlier. I remembered the circle of truckers and their families, holding hands, voices joined together to pray…deliver us from evil.”

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