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Suspect Surrenders After Bridge Standoff

April 17, 2002
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Suspect Surrenders After Bridge Standoff

by Patricia Davis, Washington Post

A New Jersey man wanted on charges of killing his wife and assaulting two Washington area police officers was arrested yesterday after holding police -- and motorists -- at bay for about 90 minutes on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, where he threatened to jump as he dangled a leg over a railing.

"He was very agitated at first," said Cpl. Diane Richardson, a Prince George's County police spokeswoman. "He kept saying the officers were going to have to shoot him because he wasn't going to go back to jail."

Police negotiators knew that Jeffrey R. Thomas, 42, was wanted on the murder charge, but they did not know whether he was armed, Richardson said. They devised a plan to rush him if he became distracted, and when that happened, officers grabbed him, she said.

Thomas's capture, about 2:10 p.m., ended a manhunt that began April 7, when Hackensack, N.J., police found the body of Pearline Thomas, 41, a nurse, in the couple's dining room. She had been stabbed in the face, neck and chest, and an arrest warrant was issued for her unemployed husband.

Two Hackensack detectives were sent to the Washington area Sunday after a man believed to be Thomas veered toward Fairfax and Prince George's county officers in a 2000 black Mazda Protege, said Hackensack Police Chief Charles "Ken" Zisa. The detectives began working with local police and distributing fliers.

On April 11, a Fairfax patrol officer spotted the Mazda in a Motel 6 parking lot with its front license plate missing, said Officer Jody Donaldson, a Fairfax police spokesman. When the Fairfax officer returned to his cruiser to check the license, the driver sped off, striking the cruiser with his Mazda, Donaldson said.

Three days later, about 2:20 a.m., a Prince George's police officer saw a man sleeping inside the Mazda on Oxon Hill Road, Richardson said. When the officer approached the vehicle and asked for identification, the driver turned his car toward the officer, and the officer jumped out of the way as the Mazda sped off.

Thomas has been charged in warrants with assaulting both officers, police said.

Before the 90-minute standoff on the bridge, police received a tip from someone who had seen a nationally televised Fox News report about Thomas, Zisa said.

Richardson said police went to the 7400 block of Oxon Hill Road, where they spotted Thomas in the Mazda. Thomas fled, with police cars and a helicopter in pursuit.

The pursuit ended at the bridge, where Thomas jumped out of his car and ran to the railing. Lt. John Crawford of the Alexandria police, one of numerous law enforcement agencies that responded, watched from Jones Point as Thomas dangled from the bridge.

"He was straddling the outermost wall of the bridge, with one leg hanging over," Crawford said.

As traffic backed up five miles, four police negotiators talked to Thomas, who insisted he wasn't going back to jail, Richardson said. Thomas had been sentenced to eight years in prison in 1996 for aggravated sexual assault and was released on parole in 2000, records show.

Eventually, Thomas calmed down, saying over and over that he was sorry for inconveniencing everybody, Richardson said.

Thomas, who was not armed when he was arrested on the bridge, was being held last night on the fugitive warrant.

"We're very relieved and proud of the officers who worked hard on this," said Zisa, the Hackensack police chief. "This was the result of good police work."

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