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D.C. Slaying Could Be Retaliation For Crash

By Theola S. Labbe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 13, 2004; Page B01

The white Toyota Tercel sat crumpled against the guardrail. Nearby, on the side of the highway, a woman lay dying of a gunshot wound.

D.C. police officers who came upon that scene on Route 295 early yesterday are investigating whether the shooting and crash came in retaliation for a car accident on East Capitol Street, authorities said yesterday.

Cars owned by the mother of Charles Cherry, left, and by Jeffery Bland were damaged in the first incident, on East Capitol Street. (Lucian Perkins -- The Washington Post)

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About 3:30 a.m., officers on patrol found the woman and her car about 500 yards from the Pennsylvania Avenue exit, police said. The woman, whom police had not identified last night, had been shot in the upper body and was pronounced dead at Prince George's Hospital Center. Police are investigating the death as a homicide.

Lt. Guy Middleton of the violent crimes unit said that the woman was a passenger in the car and that police were trying to find the car's driver. A witness told police that the car was fired upon from another car, Middleton said. Investigators found at least one bullet hole in the car, but the woman appeared to have been shot outside of the vehicle, Middleton said.

Based on damage to the car, police said they believe it had been involved in an earlier accident at 39th and East Capitol streets SE.

Witnesses to the East Capitol Street crash could not say yesterday whether they saw a Tercel at the scene. Charles Cherry, 51, said that sometime after 3 a.m., when he was asleep in his two-story brick home in the 3900 block of East Capitol Street, he heard a loud crash.

Cherry said he jumped up and went to the window, where he saw the commotion outside. He identified one car as a white Honda Prelude.

"I saw somebody standing in the median. He was talking to someone about pursuing the vehicle who hit him. He was pretty upset about it," Cherry said.

Neighbors also roused from sleep were gathering outside when Cherry walked out. He saw his mother's silver Oldsmobile Cutlass Cierra on the sidewalk, heavily damaged on the driver's side. Cherry said his mother, Cleo Cherry, 72, uses the car to drive to church and to appointments during the week.

"She was devastated," Cherry said.

Another witness, Jeffery Bland, 38, said he was sitting in his parked car on East Capitol Street, waiting for his girlfriend to come out of a friend's house, when he heard tires screeching and saw two cars collide. One of those cars, a white Honda Prelude, then struck the Oldsmobile and Bland's car from behind.

Bland said the driver of the Prelude asked him, "Are you all right? Are you all right?" Then that driver said, "Wait here. I'm going to try to go after the people who did this," Bland recalled. A few seconds later, he saw the man jump into another car that quickly pulled up, and the car sped off, heading west on East Capitol Street.

"I waited for a while, but he never came back," said Bland, of Northeast.

Bland was back on East Capitol Street yesterday afternoon, talking with Cherry and looking for more information about the driver of the Prelude. Bland bought his Honda Accord less than two weeks ago for $1,500; yesterday, its rear bumper was smashed in and his trunk was slightly ajar, popped up from the impact of the crash. Bland said he depends on his car for his maintenance job. He said he does not have collision insurance.

"I don't even know who to contact," said Bland, who added that he was not interviewed by police.

"All I want is my car fixed," he said.

Police asked anyone with information about the fatal shooting or the crash to call 202-727-9099.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company