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Fairfax Machete Victim Testifies He Played Dead

Others Sought in Possible Gang Clash

By Peter Whoriskey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 2, 2005; Page B01

The victim of a machete attack outside a Merrifield multiplex appeared in court yesterday, both hands in casts, three fingers missing and his head marked with pink scars as long as six inches.

The 24-year-old Fairfax County man testified that he was stalked and set upon Jan. 3 by men who sprang from cars as he left the theater with his son and girlfriend. As the men approached, one of them, Wilber Rivera, 18, apparently referred to an earlier meeting and then invoked the name of one of Northern Virginia's best-known street gangs, the victim testified.

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" 'Don't you remember me from Tysons Corner?' " the victim quoted Rivera as saying. " 'La Mara Salvatrucha.' "

The testimony came at a preliminary hearing for Rivera, who has been charged in the machete attack, which police say was gang-related. That incident came after a similar attack in the Alexandria area in May, in which a teenager lost four fingers.

Three men have pleaded guilty in that case, but police are still seeking the other assailants involved in the Jan. 3 incident outside Lee Highway Multiplex Cinemas, a suburban strip in the heart of Fairfax County. Police believe that the assailants in both cases were members of Mara Salvatrucha.

It is not known whether the victim of the multiplex attack, whose identity is being protected because the other suspects are at large, has been affiliated with a gang, and he declined to comment yesterday as he left the courthouse. Rivera's defense attorney, assistant public defender Jeffrey G. Overand, was not allowed to inquire about the subject during the hearing, but he noted afterward that the victim has tattoos, including three dots under one eye, that he said could suggest gang involvement. The victim also has what appears to be a number inked on his neck.

His accused assailant, Rivera, has an "M" and "S," each about three inches high, tattooed on his chest, police said, apparently in reference to Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13.

The focus of yesterday's hearing, however, was the nature of the attack.

As the men he had seen earlier approached him that night, "I threw my son to my baby's mother" and tried to flee, the victim testified. "I knocked on the movie theater doors. They wouldn't let me in."

At least three attackers "just kept circling me and attacking me," he said, threatening and striking him with fists, knives and a machete. He lost his three fingers when he lifted his hand to his head to protect himself. The woman escaped, police said.

Eventually, "I had so much blood dripping from my eyes I really couldn't see" and decided, lying on his back, to play dead.

"I was playing possum," he testified. "I let my eyes roll to the back of my head so he would think I was finished."

Rivera and the other men then left, the victim said.

Rivera's parents, who attended the hearing, said he had been working as a busboy at the Rain Forest Cafe in Tysons Corner. But they declined to offer any more information about him.

The victim said he "recognized" Rivera that night, but his testimony did not give any detail as to how the two knew each other.

Rivera was arrested Jan. 14 at Tysons Corner Center, the regional mall where the Rain Forest Cafe is located. A trial has been set tentatively for March 30.

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