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Sniper scare returns with restaurant shooting in Virginia

Washington, Oct. 20 (Reuters): Police mounted a massive manhunt for the sniper who has been terrorising the Washington area after a man was shot at and wounded last night as he left a restaurant in neighbouring Virginia.

The 37-year-old man, who has not been named, was shot in the stomach as he was leaving a steakhouse with his wife, and a hospital spokeswoman said he was in stable but critical condition after three hours of surgery.

“He’s in critical condition in the intensive care unit. That’s the most serious condition and it is life-threatening but I can’t say anymore,” Pam Lepley, a spokeswoman for the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond, said.

Police declined to confirm local television reports that the bullet was still lodged in the man’s body, which could delay ballistics tests, crucial to establish a possible link to shooting spree that began on October 2.

If linked to the elusive sniper, who has killed nine persons and wounded two in Washington and the neighbouring suburbs of Maryland and Virginia, the man would be the 12th victim.

“We don’t yet know whether it is related to the sniper in northern Virginia and Maryland but we are going to treat it as though it is until we know that it’s not,” said Col Stuart Cook of the sheriff’s department in Hanover County where the shooting took place.

Lt Doug Goodman of the Hanover County sheriff’s office said a regional law enforcement sniper task force from Washington had rushed to Ashland. He said members of the federal Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, the Secret Service, US Marshals Service, the FBI and other local police departments were on the scene.

Police cars surrounded the area and virtually shut down nearby highways as they scoured traffic, concentrating on white vans as described by several witnesses at previous shooting sites. The shooting bears the hallmarks of the sniper — the man was shot at random with a single bullet while engaged in a mundane, everyday activity off a highway.

He was shot in a parking lot outside a Ponderosa Steakhouse restaurant in Ashland, Virginia, about 25 km north of Richmond, Virginia, southwest of Washington.

Ashland police chief Frederic Pleasants said the victim and his wife, who had stopped for a meal and gasoline while passing through the region, were leaving the restaurant when the shot rang out at about 8 pm, apparently from a wooded area behind the restaurant.

Pleasants said the wooded area was about 100 feet away from where the victim was shot as he walked with his wife.

“She heard a sound, but didn’t relate it to a gun shot. Her husband took about three steps and then began to collapse in the parking lot,” he said.

Earlier yesterday, law enforcement sources told The Washington Post that a shell casing found in a white box truck seized at Dulles International Airport in Virginia on Friday did not match the ammunition used in the sniper attacks.

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