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Sniper manhunt expands to suburbs

By Deborah Hastings
Saturday October 12, 2002

FREDERICKSBURG, Va. — A man filling up his car at a Virginia gas station was shot to death Friday in what may have been the most brazen attack yet by the Washington-area sniper, committed as a state trooper investigated an accident just across the street. 

The trooper heard the shot and saw the victim fall. The gunman vanished into the gray drizzle. 

“Obviously we’re dealing with an individual who is extremely violent and doesn’t care,” Spotsylvania County Sheriff’s Maj. Howard Smith said. 

Authorities did not immediately confirm the shooting was the eighth slaying committed by the sniper over the past 10 days. But like the other attacks, witnesses described a single shot, fired apparently at random at someone going about his everyday activities. And three earlier attacks occurred at gas stations. 

“The shooting certainly looks similar,” said Montgomery County (Md.) Police Chief Charles Moose, who sent investigators to the scene. 

Added Smith: “Any time we get a shooting right now we’re going to treat it as if it is connected to this case until it’s proven differently.” 

The Washington Post, in a story on its Web site Friday night, reported unidentified law enforcement sources said ballistic evidence linked Friday’s shooting to the sniper. 

The Spotsylvania County sheriff’s office, when asked about the newspaper report, said analysis of the ballistic evidence would be announced Saturday. A spokeswoman for Gov. Mark R. Warner said more bullet fragments were recovered here than from the other attacks. 

Citing witness reports of a white van carrying two people, authorities immediately blocked traffic on nearby highways and checked vehicles. The roadblocks turned stretches of Interstate 95 into a virtual parking lot, backing up traffic for miles on the eve of the Columbus Day holiday weekend. 

The roadblocks were lifted, but Smith said officers continued to pull over white vans into the night. A similar lead cropped up last week after the first rash of slayings. 

Col. W. Gerald Massengill, superintendent of Virginia State Police, cautioned the public not to focus only on white vans. 

“We don’t want preconceived notions out there, but certainly you have to play the hand that you’re dealt and the information that has come to us is white vans,” Massengill said. 

Bruce Bingham, who works at a gas station across from the Exxon station where the shooting happened, said he heard a single shot and saw an unmarked white van driving away from an intersection. Bingham said the light turned green right after the shot and he speculated that someone in the van might have timed the shooting to coincide with the light. 

The FBI identified the victim as Kenneth H. Bridges, 53, a father of six who graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and was co-founder of a marketing distribution company.