The six minimum-security inmates shared their lunches with the toddler, who apparently wandered away from home, and played with him while authorities located the parents and investigated, said Correctional Officer Gary Kershner, who was overseeing the prisoners.
"Me and my inmate crew, we just kind of baby-sat for the next three hours," Kershner said. "They were as much entertained by the child as he was by them."
The boy was on Route 550 about two miles south of Woodsboro, not far from the Pennsylvania line, when a dump truck driver stopped to pluck him off the road shortly after 9 a.m., said Trooper First Class David Greenwood, who was at the scene.
Kershner, who had stopped his van to help, said the truck driver handed the boy to him for safekeeping until police arrived. A State Highway Administration truck driver accompanying the litter-picking crew also stayed on the scene, agency spokesman Charles Gischlar said.
Troopers eventually found the boy's home nearby, Greenwood said. He said the child was reunited with his family after Child Protective Services investigated and found no immediate cause to suspect abuse or neglect.
The boy's father, who works at home, told police he had left the child in the care of an 18-year-old daughter, who then left without notice, Greenwood said. State police were conducting their own investigation and would report their findings to Frederick County prosecutors for possible charges, Lt. Michael J. Brady said.
Kershner, 52, of Smithsburg, said the hilly road is treacherous due to traffic from dump trucks going to and from a nearby quarry.
"You're taking your life in your hands to be an adult walking along that road," he said.