- The Washington Times - Monday, March 6, 2000

A drunken night club customer drove his Jeep down a stretch of sidewalk yesterday morning in Northwest, hitting and injuring eight persons before he fled, police said.

The Jeep jumped the curb just after 1 a.m. in the 900 block of E Street NW, in front of the Ritz night club and across from the FBI building.

Police arrested Alphonza Kirksey of the 500 block of Cedar Leaf Avenue in Seat Pleasant, Md., and charged him with eight counts of assault with a deadly weapon plus leaving the scene of an accident, possession of crack cocaine and driving while intoxicated. He will be arraigned this morning.

Police say Mr. Kirksey drove back and forth on the sidewalk, hitting four persons as he drove forward and four more persons when he put the Jeep Grand Cherokee in reverse and drove backward, finally driving back onto the street and fleeing.

An unidentified good Samaritan saw the incident, jumped into his car and followed the vehicle. He later called police from a pay phone and led officers to the 3200 block of Stanton Road SE, where a Jeep had stopped.

The eight injured persons were taken to hospitals, where they were treated for minor injuries and released.

The Jeep also struck a building at 905 E St. NW before taking off. Broken bits of the tail lights and glass were scattered outside the Weschler's Auctioneers and Appraisers building.

Yesterday, a battered 1994 white Jeep with gold trim was towed to the 1st District police substation in Southwest. It looked as if it had been in a demolition derby. The back right fender was smashed into the tire, the back rear window was smashed out and the body on the driver's side was scraped.

According to some witnesses, dozens of patrons fled the street and flooded other bars and clubs seeking refuge from rumors of a gun being fired outside.

Police confirmed someone reported hearing gunshots near the Ritz, but no shell casings or bullet holes were found.

"I was on my way out, [and] all I saw were people just running down the street," said Keith Wilson, a supervisor at the Hard Rock Cafe just down the block from the Ritz, who was leaving work when he saw the commotion.

The 900 block of E Street is a busy place most Saturday nights, with lines of cars looking for parking and long lines of clubgoers waiting on the sidewalks.

"There were at least 100 people at this intersection [10th and E streets]," said Mr. Wilson, adding that he turned away several fleeing people who were running scared.

Police said they don't yet know the reason for Mr. Kirksey's actions.

The District has been trying for years to end violence in certain night clubs that dot the quadrants of the city, although the Ritz would hardly make the list of places to avoid.

In 1993, a man was thrown out of the Ritz for being abusive to other customers. Michael Harrell, 28, attacked an off-duty police officer working at the club and was arrested. He died of cardiac arrest while waiting handcuffed in the back of a police wagon.

Far worse and more frequent acts have occurred at a handful of night spots targeted by police.

Matters came to a head in 1997 when D.C. police Officer Brian T. Gibson was shot and killed by a drunken patron of the Ibex night club while sitting in his squad car near the Georgia Avenue club.

The Ibex was shuttered almost immediately. The killer, Marthell Dean, 28, is serving two life sentences without the possibility of parole.

Chief Charles H. Ramsey said removing a club from a neighborhood usually reduces crime.

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