A Howard County man was indicted yesterday in the 1996 abduction of a Prince William County motorist, one of more than a dozen abductions or attempts believed to have been committed by the "Route 29 stalker."
At a news conference yesterday, Prince William's top prosecutor and police chief said Darrell D. Rice, 36, was indicted in the attack on a 37-year-old motorist in 1996. Detectives began investigating Rice after he was charged in April 2002 in the slaying of two hikers in Shenandoah National Park, they said.
That federal case unraveled this year, and the charges against Rice were dropped after new DNA tests failed to link him to the park killings. Rice remains a suspect in the case, a federal prosecutor said. He is serving time in prison for trying to abduct a female bicyclist in the park in 1997.
Yesterday's indictment, on charges of malicious wounding, abduction with intent to defile and robbery, stems from a rainy winter night when the Prince William woman was lured to the side of the road by a man who flashed his headlights at her car, police said. The man, who told the woman that sparks were flying underneath her car and persuaded her to get into his truck, assaulted the woman with a screwdriver, but she was able to fight him off and escape.
Prince William Commonwealth's Attorney Paul B. Ebert said police suspect that the woman's abduction, which occurred on Route 234 between Manassas and Woodbridge, was linked to the Route 29 stalker cases, which kept female drivers on edge for several months afterward.
Ebert said the indictment was significant because Rice is scheduled to be released from prison in 2007. The new charges carry a maximum sentence of life in prison. "This is a very dangerous individual," Ebert said. "This type of individual should not be allowed on the streets."
During February and March 1996, a man driving a pickup truck stopped or tried to stop more than a dozen female drivers, often using a similar ruse. Most of the incidents occurred along a five- to 10-mile stretch of Route 29, from the Brandy Station area of Culpeper County to the town of Madison in Madison County, said Virginia State Police Lt. Rick Jenkins.
Then, on March 2, 1996, Alicia Showalter Reynolds, a 25-year-old Johns Hopkins pharmacology student, vanished while driving to Charlottesville on Route 29. Showalter's white Mercury Tracer was found along the side of the highway, just south of Culpeper. Her body was found two months later.
At the time of Showalter's disappearance, investigators said they believed her slaying was linked to the other incidents along the road. Rice has not been charged in her slaying.
Eight women who were stopped along Route 29, including the Prince William woman, have identified Rice as the assailant, according to court papers filed in Charlottesville in the slaying of the hikers.
At the time of the attacks on 13 women, including Reynolds, Rice was on annual, personal or sick leave from his job as a computer programmer, federal prosecutors said. They also wrote that Rice told a U.S. marshal that he "chose women to intimidate because they were vulnerable and that he had stopped women along Route 29."
Virginia State Police Special Agent Stan Gregg of the Culpeper office, who is investigating the Reynolds case, said "there's a good possibility" that her disappearance is linked to the other cases.
In the Prince William case, the victim had a harrowing ride Feb. 24, 1996, through the middle of the county that lasted about 10 minutes, police said. The woman, who worked as a custodian at the Manassas Mall food court, was heading home in her 1989 red Ford Festiva about midnight when she saw a driver in her rearview mirror flashing his vehicle's headlights, said Prince William Detective Samson Newsome.
The man turned on his right-turn signal, and the woman pulled to the shoulder, Newsome said. The man, dressed in casual dress slacks and a long-sleeve shirt, told her he saw sparks underneath her car. Newsome said he introduced himself only as Larry -- a name used in the other cases.
"He told her it was the brakes and that it would be dangerous to continue driving any further," Newsome said. Once inside his truck, the man twice pulled to the side of the road, telling the woman that he could not see because the windows were fogging up and that he wanted to let cars pass. When he pulled over a third time, he grabbed her around the head and forced her down into his lap, Newsome said. He grabbed her purse and then tried to shove her out the door.
"She released her seat belt, but she was still entangled. She goes out the door and is dragged for several feet. She tumbled over and over" before getting loose, Newsome said. The woman broke her right ankle and suffered several cuts in the attack, Newsome said.
Newsome visited the woman in April 2002, after Rice was indicted in the hiker slayings, and showed her an array of photos that included Rice, according to court records. The woman cried when she identified Rice as her assailant, the records state.
Rice had been charged in the deaths of Laura S. "Lollie" Winans, 26, of Unity, Maine, and Julianne M. Williams, 24, of St. Cloud, Minn. The women, whose throats were slashed, were last seen alive May 23, 1996, while on a camping trip in Shenandoah National Park.
Federal prosecutors had said strong circumstantial evidence linked Rice to the slayings of Winans and Williams, a lesbian couple. But prosecutors sought to drop the case before trial after new tests showed that hair found at the crime scene and DNA from cloth used to gag the women did not come from Rice and possibly were left by the killer.
The capital case achieved notoriety because it was the first time prosecutors tried to use a 1994 law that allows the government to seek tougher sentences for crimes triggered by anti-homosexual biases.