Strange Days

Notes From a Shootout

A strange day in Washington got even stranger when a woman tried to ram her car into the White House and fled in a high-speed car chase that ended in a hail of bullets.

A dramatic scene took place in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday afternoon involving a high-speed car chase with gunfire on Pennsylvania Avenue. A 34-year-old African-American woman tried to ram the outer barricades around the White House in a black Infiniti sedan with Connecticut plates. Her 18-month-old daughter was in the car as well. Authorities identified the woman as Miriam Carey, a dental hygenist from Stamford, Conn.

She was unable to gain access and immediately sped away, hitting a Secret Service agent. The car raced down Pennsylvania Avenue, pursued by four or five police cars, according to eyewitness Travis Gilbert, who was watching from the roof of the nearby Newseum. One of the police cars crashed at high speed into a barrier on Constitution Avenue, injuring the driver and damaging the car. The Infiniti sedan then made a right turn toward the West Front of the Capitol.

While there, says Frank Schwing, a furloughed federal employee with the Commerce Department who was watching events from the West Front, the car stopped and a number of police officers approached it with guns drawn. Then, the driver quickly backed into the police cruiser parked behind her, turned around, and sped away as shots were fired, in part of the incident that was captured on video.

According to Kim Dine, chief of the Capitol Police, the chase eventually came to an end at Second Street and Maryland Avenue NE, by the Senate office buildings, where the vehicle crashed after shots were fired. The driver of the car “was struck by gunfire” and is dead, said Cathy Lanier, chief of Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department. Dine also confirmed that the injured officer is conscious and “doing well.” The officer, a 23-year-veteran of the Capital Police, is at a nearby hospital. Because of the government shutdown, Capitol Police are working without pay.

The chase and the ensuing gunshots made an already strange day—it’s day three of the federal government shutdown—even more bizarre. The Capitol was locked down, and tourists and reporters were hustled inside by police. While law-enforcement authorities have said that this was not an accident, they are also ruling out an act of terrorism.” Instead, Dine called it an “isolated, singular matter.”

John Sampson of Louisville, Ky., was in Washington with his brother-in-law Andrew Dabney and nephew Whitt for Whitt’s 13th birthday. They booked the trip months ago, as a way to show Whitt how government worked; needless to say the shutdown had interfered with those plans. While eating hot dogs on their way to the Capitol to meet Sen. Mitch McConnell, an old friend of his father, Sampson said they heard four or five gunshots and then “an awful noise” as the police car crashed. They expected their meeting with McConnell to be canceled in what had become an even more surreal trip to Washington.