WASHINGTON (AP) — An inmate hospitalized after a suicide attempt overpowered a guard, took her gun, escaped and carjacked two vehicles Tuesday, setting off a frenzied nine-hour search that ended with his capture as he got off a bus in the nation's capital.
Wossen Assaye, 42, was charged earlier this month as the "Bicycle Bandit" — accused of robbing a dozen banks in northern Virginia and sometimes fleeing on two wheels.
Assaye had tried to kill himself in jail and was taken to Inova Fairfax Hospital in northern Virginia on Friday, authorities said. He had been under the supervision of two contract guards.
Police say that about 3 a.m. Tuesday, Assaye overpowered a female guard when the other guard left to use the restroom. He took her gun and used her as a shield. He then fled down a stairwell, wearing only his hospital gown.
The other guard fired one shot in the encounter. No one was hit, and nobody at the hospital was injured.
Outside the hospital, Assaye fled on foot and hid in the trunk of a car. Police were unsure whether Assaye had left the hospital complex. They locked the hospital down and conducted a room-by-room search.
While Assaye hid in the trunk, the woman who owned the car entered it and began driving. Assaye kicked out the trunk and carjacked the startled woman, who suffered slight injuries, said Fairfax County Police Chief Edwin Roessler.
Assaye later abandoned that car and left the guard's weapon there, police said.
Witnesses reported seeing Assaye on foot in an Annandale neighborhood a few miles from the hospital — not far from the site of the carjacking. Assaye then carjacked a second vehicle, police said.
By 10 a.m., officers were searching Annandale neighborhoods with a helicopter overhead and heavily armed officers on the ground. In one neighborhood, Spence Limbocker said he heard the copter, went outside and saw a massive police presence, including officers armed with assault rifles searching homes and nearby woods.
"They told me to get back in the house and lock all my doors. ... It was a little scary," Limbocker said.
Police sent numerous updates and lookout advisories on social media for Assaye and the carjacked vehicles. Roessler said the arrest occurred in southeast Washington without incident after a citizen saw Assaye and alerted authorities.
At a news conference Tuesday after Assaye was back in custody, U.S. Marshal for the Eastern District of Virginia Bobby Mathieson said he plans a review of the policies and procedures in place for guarding inmates at the hospital.
Still, he said, "two people should be able to guard a prisoner securely."
He said that to his knowledge, Assaye was shackled at the time of the escape, as policies require. But Mathieson had no explanation for how Assaye would have overpowered a guard while shackled or how he may have shed his handcuffs.
The guards were with Allied Protection Services, Inc., a Los Angeles-based private firm. A man who returned a call to the number listed as company headquarters Tuesday referred all questions to the Marshals Service.
Assaye was arrested March 20 and charged with a robbery at Apple Federal Credit Union in Alexandria. But the FBI believes Assaye, of Arlington, is responsible for a string of 12 bank robberies in northern Virginia over the last year and a half that netted him about $32,000.
Brooke Rupert, a public defender who was representing Assaye in the robbery case, declined to comment Tuesday morning.
Assaye had been booked into the Alexandria jail, which typically holds federal inmates charged in northern Virginia, on the federal charges March 21, Alexandria Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Amy Bertsch said in a statement. On Friday, he attempted suicide and was taken to the hospital just outside the Capital Beltway in Fairfax County for treatment, she said. Alexandria deputy sheriffs turned Assaye over to security officers contracted by the U.S. Marshals after the first 24 hours, she said.
It was not clear why Assaye had to remain in the hospital for four days. Mathieson said his only lasting injury after the suicide attempt was a broken nose.
Assaye made an initial appearance Tuesday afternoon in federal court in Alexandria on the escape charge, dressed in a white vinyl jumpsuit, shackled at the wrists and ankles and guarded by four marshals.
His head slumped through the brief hearing, Assaye answered meekly when asked if he understood the charge and his rights.
A preliminary hearing was scheduled for Friday afternoon. His public defender waived his right to a detention hearing.
Prosecutors say the escape charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison. Police said earlier that they will be working with local and federal authorities to determine exactly what charges will ultimately be levied against Assaye.