Armed prisoner who escaped from Va. hospital captured

WASHINGTON — An escaped prisoner charged with bank robbery was arrested in Southeast D.C. Tuesday after he fled from a Virginia hospital, launching a manhunt that lasted through the morning and involved two carjackings and a car crash.

Wossen Assaye, 42, was arrested by Metropolitan police in the area of Minnesota Avenue and 25th Street SE before noon after a tip from a member of the public, who spotted Assaye on the street. Assaye was in federal court for an initial appearance Tuesday afternoon for a new charge of escape.

His arrest comes after a nine-hour long manhunt that shut down roads around Inova Fairfax Hospital and put the medical campus on lock down. At least seven law enforcement agencies searched on ground and by air and scoured the hospital buildings looking for Assaye, a felon, after his brazen escape.

Investigators say about 3 a.m., Assaye overpowered one of the security officers guarding him while he was a patient at the hospital. A second officer was taking a bathroom break at the time.

There was a struggle and the male guard fired one shot, but no one was injured. The round was found lodged in the wall of a hospital room but investigators aren’t sure who fired the gun. Assaye managed to get the female guard’s gun and he walked her down the hallway using the female guard as a shield before running for the stairs.

Dressed in a hospital gown and wearing no shoes, Assaye ran to to a nearby apartment complex where he hid in the trunk of a Toyota Camry for several hours. While the car owner was driving to work, he kicked through the back seat from the trunk. He eventually stole the car from its owner, who was able to escape after crashing into a parked car in an Annandale neighborhood a few miles away from the hospital, investigators say.

He later ditched the stolen Toyota Camry and then stole a second car, a 2008 Hyundai Elantra, from another Annandale neighborhood. Police found the security guard’s gun in the Camry.

Assaye will face additional charges in Fairfax County, says Police Chief Edwin Roessler. And the U.S. Marshals Service, which is responsible for the custody of federal prisoners, says it plans to review its handling of prisoners who are hospitalized.

Assaye was originally arrested March 20 on a federal bank robbery charge. The FBI says that he is responsible for a dozen bank robberies in Northern Virginia since October 2013. Charging documents say Assaye robbed the Apple Federal Credit Union on Sir Viceroy Drive the same day as his arrest.

Investigators have dubbed him the “Bicycle Bandit,” according to federal prosecutors.  In the majority of the heists, the robber left the bank on a bicycle.

He was taken to Inova Fairax Hospital after a suicide attempt at the Alexandria detention center on March 27. Alexandria sheriff’s deputies stood guard for the first day but then a private security contractor took over guarding Assaye, according to the Marshals Service.

Bobby Mathieson, the U.S. Marshal for Virginia’s eastern district, says that he believed that Assaye was shackled during his stay at the hospital. But it was not clear how Assaye was able to escape those shackles and overpower the female guard.

The incident is under review and policy changes could be warranted, Matthieson says.

“Two people should be able to certainly guard a prisoner securely,” he says.

According to court records, Assaye was convicted of burglary and robbery offenses in Alexandria and was in prison from 2000 to 2013. At the time of his March arrest, he was serving probation in Arlington County.

A hospital on alert

Authorities put the hospital, located on Gallows Road in Falls Church, on lockdown following Assaye’s escape. The extra security precautions lasted more than three hours.

Employees were directed to Falls Church High School for shuttle bus pick up. And inside the hospital, an announcement came over the loud speaker telling patients to stay in their rooms, reports a WTOP staffer hospitalized at Inova Fairfax.

As of 7:45 a.m., the all clear was given at the hospital and patients were permitted to leave their rooms.

Joyce Armstrong was headed to her first day of work at the hospital when she was redirected to the nearby high school for the shuttle service. The employee who was transferring from Inova Alexandria says she was trying to get to work early, but got caught in traffic and sent to the school.

“I guess I’m just concerned with getting inside with being brand new, and the first day starting off,” she says.

Crime spree in Annandale

Preston Hall was sitting in his den about 7 a.m. Tuesday when he heard a screech, then the sound of a violent car crash followed soon after by a woman’s screams.

Serious wrecks weren’t uncommon by his house at the corner of Cindy Lane and Backlick Road. The longtime Annandale resident thought someone had been badly injured in the crash and ran outside to help. What he found was his wife’s car totaled in the driveway, car tracks through his front yard and a woman running toward a convenience store nearby. Meanwhile, a Toyota Camry with a man inside sped off.

“As I run to door, the car’s drifting down the driveway. And I see the door open and the lady takes off and starts running … the car immediately turns right,” he says. “He took off up the hill at a high rate of speed.”

Within minutes, more than a dozen unmarked police cars arrived.

The woman who had been screaming was driving the Toyota and she had been carjacked. Hall later learned the man in the car with the woman, armed with a gun, was Assaye.

“She was definitely frantic, she was beside herself,” Hall says of the carjacking victim, whom police have not identified.

Roessler says she was slightly injured and treated.

Assaye dumped the Camry, which was found about 10:30 a.m., and soon stole the Hyundai Elantra from another Annandale neighborhood. He was seen running through the woods nearby and he threatened the owner of the Elantra, who turned over the vehicle to Assaye, police say.

A neighbor who saw the carjacking told WTOP’s Max Smith that a nearby homeowner tried to stop the vehicle theft and was almost struck. No one was injured, according to police.

The second stolen car was found after Assaye’s arrest.

WTOP’s Kristi King, Max Smith, Amanda Iacone and Megan Cloherty contributed to this report.

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