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Man's Fingers Severed In Va. Machete Attack

Gang Suspected in Multiplex Incident

By Tom Jackman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 5, 2005; Page B02

A Fairfax man walking from a Merrifield movie theater was attacked late Monday by several men -- one of them wielding a machete -- and in the flurry of blows, three fingers were severed from the victim's left hand, police said yesterday.

The attack was similar to one in the Alexandria area in May, in which a teenager lost four fingers in a machete onslaught. Police believe that the assailants in both cases were members of the street gang Mara Salvatrucha. Three men have pleaded guilty in the first case; the assailants in Monday night's attack remain at large.

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Fairfax County police said they were not certain whether the victim in the assault near the Lee Highway Multiplex Cinemas also was a gang member. Latino gangs in Northern Virginia mostly have attacked only rival gang members, often after spontaneous encounters involving disrespect toward the other gang. Police said words were exchanged before Monday's attack.

The 24-year-old victim was taken to Inova Fairfax Hospital after the 11:50 p.m. incident, and police said he was in surgery late yesterday as doctors tried to reattach his fingers. His injuries were not life-threatening.

On May 13, three admitted members of Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, were insulted by members and associates of the South Side Locos near a 7-Eleven on Edsall Road. The MS-13 members then grabbed machetes from a nearby apartment and chased their rivals, catching one 16-year-old and hacking him in the head, back and hands.

Two of the three MS-13 members involved have been sentenced to 15 years in prison; a third is awaiting sentencing.

The neighborhood where Monday's machete assault occurred, near Gallows Road and Lee Highway, is largely commercial, and business owners said yesterday that they had little or no experience with gang-related crime. Some were unaware of the attack, which had happened just steps away.

Police said the victim and a 21-year-old woman were walking along Strawberry Lane, a short street between Gallows Road and the movie theater. A car pulled alongside them.

The man and the car's occupants spoke briefly, and then three or four men climbed out of the car. The couple ran back toward the theater, police said, and the assailants caught the man while the woman escaped and hid.

The attackers rained blows on the man, and one wielding a machete hit him in the back, head and hands, Officer Bud Walker said. Police believe that the man's fingers were severed while he tried to ward off the machete strikes. The woman was not hurt.

The assailants climbed into a car and left. The only description the victim was able to give was of three or four Latino men ages 18 to 25. He was not able to describe the car.

Nearby business leaders were shocked by the attack.

"We've had no [gang] problems whatsoever," said Alberto Alvarez, manager of Al's Auto Care at Gallows Road and Strawberry Lane. "We've had no graffiti, no vandalism, and the police usually have an officer in the movie theater parking lot 80 percent of the time."

Walker confirmed that officers from the McLean patrol district routinely keep a close eye on the busy multiplex, which has showings from noon to 10 p.m. most days, and until midnights on weekends. A theater manager declined to comment yesterday.

In the census tract bordered by Lee Highway, the Capital Beltway, Route 50 and Prosperity Avenue, which contains three shopping centers and a business park, crime statistics for last year did not show much activity. Walker said three aggravated assaults occurred in the area last year, none at the theaters, as well as 55 disorderly conduct charges and 72 simple assaults. In a year's time, Walker said, "I wouldn't characterize those numbers as extraordinary."

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