A murderer who had escaped from Lorton prison was killed and two Alexandria police officers wounded yesterday morning in a gun battle in an Alexandria apartment complex that followed the robbery of a High's Dairy Store near Landmark Shopping Center.
Police said the two injured vice squad officers located one of two robbery suspects in the parking lot of the Oakwood Apartments, where he opened fire on the plainclothes officers. In the volley of gunfire, a Lorton escapee identified by police as Michael A. Miller, 25, of Ninth Street SE, was shot once in the head.
Miller, who apparently walked out of the Lorton prison on a visitors day four months ago, was pronounced dead at the scene. District officials said he was serving a 20-year-to-life term for first-degree murder when he and his brother, who was later recaptured, fled from the prison.
Alexandria police cordoned off the 1,524-unit Oakwood complex after the 11 a.m. shooting and searched it for several hours before concluding that the second robbery suspect apparently had fled.
The wounded police officers, William Mayfield, 29, who suffered a wounded right shoulder, and Anthony Syrowski, 28, wounded in the torso, were listed in good condition at Alexandria Hospital.
One resident of a nearby high-rise said he watched the suspect's car come to a stop. "He just opened the door, stepped out and shot at the police car. I saw the police officer slump over in the back seat," said the resident who asked not to be named. "Then the man from the Fiat took a step and fell down. His car kept rolling."
"One police officer got out of his car and he fell down, and the other police was firing into the woods," said Dennis Null, a resident of the Oakwood apartments. "And one kept yelling to the other one: 'Get down! Get down!' and then he said to his radio, 'I need help!' Then he fell."
"I heard five shots," said Tammy Schaeffer, another Oakwood resident. "I came out and I saw two cops . . . in plainclothes lying on the ground. There wasn't much blood from them, but there was a lot from the other man."
The police officers' unmarked white car had two bullet holes in the front passenger side and the driver's seat was streaked with blood. The suspect's late model red Fiat, which had Virginia license plates, came to rest against a clump of trees in the parking lot. It was unmarked except for a dent in the driver's door.
Police said they recovered a pistol larger than a .38-caliber, which was apparently used by the suspects.
The robbery occurred shortly after 11 a.m. at a High's Dairy Store in the 5400 block of Duke Street, a few blocks east of the Landmark Shopping Center.
Two men, one dressed in blue jeans and the other in overalls, entered the store, took an undisclosed amount of money and apparently ran to the Oakwood parking lot next door.
Police said Miller was seen driving the Fiat in the parking lot by the two police officers, who tried to stop him.
The officers followed and pulled alongside. Then, according to an eyewitness, the Fiat's door opened and its driver leaned out and fired several times at the police car, apparently hitting both officers.
Police investigators declined to say if they had recovered any of the stolen money.
By early afternoon, the Oakwood complex was swarming with police while helicopters hovered overhead and residents were cautioned to keep their doors locked. Officers searched under cars and in nearby buildings for a second suspect. The back parking lot was cordoned off with yellow "crime scene" tape, and both the police car and the Fiat were taped and readied for towing.
Landmark-area merchants said yesterday that robberies have become frequent in the neighborhood, near Rtes. I-95 and I-395. "You wouldn't want to go for even a couple of days without insurance here," said Jean Larson, owner of the Mobil gas station next to the High's store.
The High's, Larson said, gets robbed frequently, "whether they need it or not."
The Mobil station, a Pizza Hut and several nearby shopping centers have all been hit by the increase in robberies in the last year, merchants said.
Last week an apparent attempted armed robbery at a savings and loan about two miles away was foiled by undercover police.
The two police officers injured yesterday brought to five the number of Washington-area law enforcement officers shot in September.
One D.C. officer was killed in a Sept. 14 struggle, another D.C. officer was wounded as she questioned a robbery suspect Sept. 20, and on Monday an Alexandria deputy sheriff was shot by an escaping prisoner.
According to D.C. police, Miller was convicted in 1979 of murdering Michael Gregory Bottoms, 23, during a street fight in the 800 block of Xenia Street SE.
His escape from Lorton June 6 was one of a recent number from the District-run prison in southern Fairfax County that angered Northern Virginia officials and led them to call for increased security at the facility.