Gunfight Caps Apparent Shooting String

MAP: By Mary Kate Cannistra, The Washington Post
By Fredrick Kunkle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 3, 2008

Virginia law enforcement officers shot and critically wounded a man near the Springfield Mall early yesterday after a short car chase, only minutes after police received a report that two other men had been found shot nearby.

No officers were injured. A Fairfax County police spokesman said it was not clear whether the incidents were related. Police also were trying to determine whether the Fairfax shootings were connected to the shooting of a taxi driver in Alexandria a short time earlier, police said.

Witnesses to the shooting by police said they heard three separate bursts of gunfire, and then a barrage.

"It was like a war zone," said Joseph Guglielmini, 59, who lives at Frontier Drive and Franconia Road, where the exchange of gunfire occurred.

The series of shootings apparently began shortly before 3 a.m., when Alexandria police received a report that a D.C. taxi driver had been shot in his vehicle at Seminary Road and North Beauregard Street.

Police put out a bulletin for a white male suspect in a dark sport-utility vehicle, Alexandria Lt. James Bartlett said. The cabdriver was listed in critical condition at a hospital late yesterday. Bartlett said police were exploring a possible link to the subsequent shootings.

At 3:24 a.m., police in Fairfax County received a call about "a shot person" near the Franconia District police station, Officer Don Gotthardt said.

In a parking lot in front of the station at 6121 Franconia Rd., police found two men with gunshot wounds that were not believed to be life-threatening. Gotthardt said he did not know whether the two had been shot there or were brought to the station after they were shot. They were taken to Inova Fairfax Hospital.

About the same time, a Virginia State Police trooper tried to pull over a dark-gray Jeep heading west on Franconia Road near Fleet Street, about a half-mile from the Franconia station, because of its "erratic driving," Gotthardt said. It was not clear whether the trooper knew about the earlier shootings, police said.

The Jeep didn't stop, and the trooper gave chase. At Lee High School, the Jeep turned onto the ramp that exits onto Frontier Drive, the Capital Beltway and other major highways, and plowed into a metal box containing electrical controls for the traffic signal at Frontier Drive and Franconia Road.

The crash awoke Guglielmini and his sister, Anna McCleary, 56. Peering from the windows, they saw many police cars, their lights bathing the street in flickering colors, as officers swarmed the area, including members of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority police.

"I heard them yelling, 'Get down! Get on the ground!' a lot," McCleary said.

Guglielmini said he saw a trooper take shelter behind his cruiser and point what appeared to be a shotgun at the Jeep, while other officers took up positions under the Franconia Road overpass.

The driver exited the Jeep and pointed a gun at the officers, and "there was a brief exchange of gunfire," police said.

McCleary said she believes she heard one shot. Her brother said he thinks he heard two. Then came a pause of several seconds, more shouted orders from the officers and four more shots, the siblings said. After a second pause, the siblings heard a fusillade.

"That third shooting was like a gunfight," Guglielmini said. "It was like, 'pow-pow-pow.' "

Gotthardt said it was not clear how many officers fired their weapons or how many shots were fired. An unidentified number of county officers were placed on leave pending results of the investigation.

The case remained murky late yesterday as Fairfax County police released only a brief news release and added that they would say nothing more about the shootings for almost 48 hours. Virginia State Police, which also were involved, referred all calls to the county. Metro police did not return calls seeking comment.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company