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Task force rushed to shooting scene

Unclear if Virginia shooting linked to sniper

Police tape cordons off the Ponderosa Steak House in Ashland, Virginia where a man was shot.

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Discredited witness reports have caused police to shift the focus of the latest sniper shooting
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The use of 'ballistic fingerprinting' in the hunt for the sniper.
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• Interactive: The death penalty
• Interactive: Police close in
• Interactive: Suspects' trail
• Story: D.C. area victims
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Suspect vehicles:
White Chevrolet Astro-type minivan with a ladder rack on its roof; Ford Econoline van with a ladder rack on its roof; white box-type truck

ASHLAND, Virginia (CNN) -- A 37-year-old man was shot and wounded "for no apparent reason" Saturday night in a parking lot behind a Ponderosa restaurant where he had stopped for a meal in a Richmond suburb 90 miles south of Washington, D.C. A sniper task force was rushed to the scene.

Local police immediately shut down several roadways as well as a long stretch of nearby Interstate 95. Police described the man and his wife as out-of-towners who had pulled off the highway "to get gas and something to eat."

It's not known if this incident is related to a series of sniper shootings in the Washington metropolitan area that has left nine people dead and two others wounded since October 2, but an official with the Hanover County Sheriff's Department said authorities are "treating it as such."

Ashland Police Chief Rick Pleasants said witnesses said they believe a single shot was fired from a wooded tree line behind the restaurant, but nobody saw the shooter or any vehicle he may have fled in. Only a single shot was fired in the D.C.-area attacks.

Virginia State Police received numerous calls after the shooting from people who claimed to have seen a white van with a ladder on it -- a description similar to one of the vehicles being sought in the Washington area -- but none witnessed the shooting.

Hanover County Sheriff Stuart Cook said that as the couple left the restaurant, the victim's wife "heard what she thought was the backfire of an automobile, her husband declared to her he had been shot and fell to his knees." He described the wife as "the best witness," but that for now, "she's distraught."

He was taken to Medical College of Virginia in Richmond where he undergoing surgery and is in serious but stable condition, Cook said.

The man was conscious and talking to hospital workers when he arrived before being rushed into surgery with a single gunshot to the abdomen, Hanover County Sheriff's Department Lt. Doug Goodman said.

It's hoped that the bullet can be retrieved and tested by the bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, which was prepared to fly any shell or fragments retrieved from the victim to its laboratory in Maryland.

A team from the multijurisdictional sniper task force located in Montgomery County, Maryland, was sent to Ashland, which is about 15 miles north of Richmond.

Investigators, including tactical and K-9 units, were combing the woods behind the restaurant, officials said. The shooting occurred at a busy stopover point for freeway motorists, with numerous fast-food restaurants, hotels and gas stations.

"This is a very unusual incident for this community," Pleasants said, "... someone being shot for no apparent reason and from a stealth position." He said the last shooting of any kind in Ashland was in February.

The shutdown of Routes 1 and 54 and Interstate 95 was enacted soon after the shooting, following directives created after a meeting of Virginia law enforcement officials as a "sniper response," snarling traffic for miles, with officers checking cars one by one.

Four hours after the shootings, authorities reopened the roads.

Traffic is at standstill on sections of Interstate 95 and Routes 1 and 54 as authorities investigate a shooting at an Ashland, Virginia restaurant.

Montgomery County Police also said they closed down an area just north of the District of Columbia and were stopping cars one-by-one in direct response to this shooting in Virginia.

No officials have linked the latest shooting with the sniper killings. There has not been a confirmed sniper attack since Monday, and the sniper has not yet struck on a weekend.

Technicians Saturday examined a bullet shell casing and a white box truck to see if they are linked to the Washington-area sniper shootings but investigators do not hold out "high hopes."

A source involved in the investigation told CNN Saturday that the task force is not highly optimistic that the truck is linked to the shootings. "We don't have high hopes; it's not a high priority," the source said.

Police said they are still actively searching for the vehicle in a composite image and still want the public to provide information pertaining to the shootings.

The truck was seized Friday after the casing was found inside at a Virginia car rental agency, Montgomery County police said. Results of the ballistics tests done by the ATF are not expected to be announced until Monday at the earliest, police said Saturday.

A source close to the investigation said an employee at the agency near Washington Dulles International Airport found the shell casing when he was cleaning out the truck and then notified authorities.

Police would not disclose further details about the truck -- for instance, whether it had lettering on the side or a damaged right rear bumper as did the composite image of a vehicle some witnesses have reported seeing near shooting scenes in Maryland.

Meanwhile, the task force continued its work, investigating tips and suspects. Sources said police have several people under surveillance, not necessarily suspects. As one is ruled out, another is moved to the top of the list and investigated.

"We're trying to narrow them down, but we may go back to some," the source said. "All kinds of things are going on."

After more than two weeks of news conferences held daily, sometimes every few hours, Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose said none was planned for Sunday.

"It just seemed reasonable that, if we don't have news, to not have a briefing," the chief said.

Saturday marked the fifth day without a sniper shooting -- the longest period of time since the killing spree began.

Man charged for false information

Matthew M. Dowdy, seen here in his mug shot, is charged with making a false statement to police.
Matthew M. Dowdy, seen here in his mug shot, is charged with making a false statement to police.

Meanwhile, the person who claimed to have seen a man with a gun just before the Monday shooting has been charged with giving false information, authorities said.

The man was identified as Matthew M. Dowdy, 37, of Falls Church, Virginia, according to Fairfax County Police Officer Sophia Grinnan. Law enforcement sources said he has a criminal record and goes by the nickname "Slim."

Dowdy originally was thought to be a key witness in the shooting of Linda Franklin at a Home Depot parking garage in Falls Church on Monday.

He has been charged with one count of knowingly and willfully making a false statement to an officer who was in the course of investigating a crime by another, a Class 2 misdemeanor, Grinnan said.

Dowdy faces up to six months in prison and a $1,000 fine.

On Thursday and Friday police were back at the Home Depot parking garage searching for new clues.

Sources said other people at the crime scene provided partial license plate numbers and those are still being evaluated.

With the sniper investigation now in its third week, the only "common denominator" in all reports is that the shooter is a male. (What is known about the sniper)

In other developments:

  • Funerals for two victims -- Dean Meyers, 53, who was killed October 9 at a gas station in Manassas, Virginia, and Pascal Charlot, 72, shot October 3 in Washington -- were held Saturday.
  • U.S. senators were warned earlier this week that those who play golf may be targets of al Qaeda snipers on golf courses and were given tips on how to protect themselves, a U.S. Capitol Police spokeswoman said. (Full story)
  • Local high schools have moved or postponed many athletic events. (Full story)

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