ASHLAND, Va. – A man was shot and wounded in a steakhouse parking lot Saturday night while walking to his car with his wife. Authorities were investigating whether the Washington-area sniper who has killed nine people had struck again, for the first time on a weekend.
The couple was leaving a Ponderosa restaurant around 8 p.m. when the 37-year-old man was shot once in the abdomen, authorities said. He was conscious and able to talk to doctors when he arrived at MCV Hospital in Richmond.
The man came out of surgery shortly after midnight after about three hours and was in critical condition, said hospital spokeswoman Pam Lepley. She said his injuries were still life threatening and wouldn’t speculate on whether he would recover. Ashland Police Chief Frederic Pleasants said doctors have not removed a bullet from the victim’s body.
Some witnesses said they heard the shot coming from a wooded area at the edge of the parking lot, said Pleasants. He said no witnesses reported seeing the shooter.
Ashland is about 90 miles south of Washington and about 35 miles south of Fredericksburg, where two previous shootings this month were linked to the sniper.
State police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said portions of Interstate 95 were immediately shut down as police set up road blocks. Roads were later reopened, and state police were monitoring traffic at exits.
Hanover County Sheriff Col. Stuart Cook said police can’t confirm the sniper was responsible, but were proceeding as if that were the case.
“The shot came out of the darkness,” Cook said. “We cannot afford to take a chance.”
Maryland State Police Sgt. William Vogt said troopers were on the lookout for a white van with a ladder rack. A sniper task force was on its way to the scene, said Montgomery County police Capt. Nancy Demme.
Lt. Doug Goodman of the Hanover County Sheriff’s Department said police were still interviewing witnesses. He said several vehicles were stopped minutes after the shooting, but no one was in custody.
If the shooting turns out to be related, it would be the first time the sniper attacked on a weekend; it also would break the longest lull in between shootings as the break in the spree had stretched into a fifth day.
It would be the 12th sniper shooting since they began Oct. 2; nine of the victims were killed. Before Monday’s killing of FBI analyst Linda Franklin at a Fairfax County Home Depot store, the longest gap between shootings was three days.
Pleasants said after dining at the restaurant for about an hour, the man’s wife heard a sound, but didn’t recognize it as a gunshot, then saw her husband take about three steps before collapsing.
Pleasants said the couple was traveling and had stopped to gas up and get something to eat, but did not say where they are from.
Ashland, with about 6,000 residents, is a favorite stop for travelers along Interstate 95. It is just off the highway and offers a variety of restaurants and gas stations. It is just north of Interstate 295, a bypass of Richmond and Petersburg.
Earlier Saturday, authorities tested a shell casing found in a white rental truck for links to the sniper attacks. Police said it would be at least Monday before they could announce whether the shell casing found in the truck — a vehicle similar to one police have profiled in the ambush killings — is connected to the shootings.
The Washington Post, quoting law enforcement sources, reported, however, that the cartridge was for a 7.62mm bullet, about equivalent to .30 caliber and larger than the .223 caliber bullets implicated in the earlier shootings. The bullets cannot be fired from the same weapon because they require different sized chambers and barrels.
The shell casing was found in a car seized at a rental agency near Dulles International Airport in Virginia, authorities said.
Pleasants said that because the bullet is lodged in the victim, police have not turned over any ballistic evidence to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
Pleasants said the victim’s vital signs are stable, but he sustained grave injuries. He may require more surgery, but it was not immediately clear when doctors would operate.
Meanwhile, high schools staged football games at secret locations so players could compete without fearing for their lives.
Jon DeNunzio, high school sports editor for The Washington Post, said some northern Virginia schools would tell his staff where games were being played only if the paper promised not to publish the sites. Washington schools refused to give notice, telling reporters when to show up at the schools so they could follow buses.
Fort Belvoir, an Army post south of Washington, offered the security of a military base for a football marathon for youth players from northern Virginia — 111 games Saturday and Sunday, moved from other locations for safety.
Games were played on nine fields hastily assembled from the base parade field and athletic fields by instructors from the base mapping school who surveyed the fields to set up the corners, and volunteers who laid out sidelines, end zones and yard lines.
Two of the sniper’s victims were buried Saturday.
More than 400 people turned out at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church in Washington to remember Pascal Charlot, 72, a carpenter who moved from Haiti to Washington in 1964. He was gunned down Oct. 3 while standing on a street corner.
“He always found humor in every situation. No matter how bad things were, he would try to cheer you up,” said Danielle Charlot, his niece. “How could someone take that away from this family?”
Near Pottstown, Pa., more than 100 people filled Christ Evangelical Congregational Church to remember Dean Meyers, 53, a Vietnam veteran, civil engineer, motorcycle enthusiast and huge Beatles fan.
He was shot Oct. 9 on his way to his Gaithersburg, Md., home after stopping for gas in Manassas, Va.