Man Shot, Wounded in Virginia

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By Martin Weil and R.H. Melton
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, October 20, 2002

A 37-year-old man was shot last night outside a restaurant near Interstate 95, north of Richmond, in an attack that appeared similar to the sniper shootings that have spread fear across the Washington region.

Like 11 attacks attributed to the elusive gunman since Oct. 2, last night's shooting drew a massive police response in which officers combed the immediate area around the shooting site in Ashland, Va., and stopped and scrutinized vehicles on major roads from Richmond to Washington.

"We're not sure that it is and we're not sure that it isn't," Hanover County Sheriff V. Stuart Cook said when asked if the shooting was linked to the sniper. Explaining the massive police response, he said, "We cannot afford to take a chance."

D.C. police said that officers were stationed at all entry points from Virginia and Maryland into the District in search of a white van. Maryland officials were stopping traffic on the Capital Beltway at the American Legion Bridge. Virginia State Police officers were positioned at highway exit ramps.

The shooting victim was described as a man from outside Virginia who was traveling through the area and had stopped to get food and gasoline. Ashland Police Chief Frederic Pleasants Jr. said the man had left the restaurant about 8 p.m. with his wife, who heard the attacker's shot but at first did not realize what it was.

She "heard a crack from the tree line" of the wooded area behind the parking lot, Pleasants said. The man took three steps and collapsed. He was taken to the Virginia Commonwealth University's Medical College of Virginia Hospital, where he was reported to be in critical condition this morning after surgery.

A Virginia State Police dispatcher said officers were looking for a white van with a ladder rack. However, similar alerts were issued after several of the sniper shootings. Authorities in Virginia said last night that no witnesses had described a suspect or a vehicle.

Many details of the incident remained unclear last night.

"The shot came out of the darkness," Cook said. "We're still trying to determine where the shot came from," he said, asserting that despite initial accounts, authorities were not certain whether the shot was fired from the woods.

 The restaurant where the shooting occurred is on Route 54 about a quarter-mile from both Route 1 and I-95, which was shut down as far south as Henrico County, just north of Richmond.

In addition to stopping cars on main roads in the shooting area, police threw up roadblocks and checked cars on highways in the immediate Washington metropolitan area, including Georgia Avenue NW and a checkpoint at Chevy Chase Circle. Late last night, traffic was slowed to a crawl there and on other principal Washington area arteries.

Most or all of the roads were reopened by early this morning.

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