- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 19, 2003

Police emphasized patience yesterday as a North Carolina tobacco farmer on his tractor on the Mall continued a standoff that played havoc with a third rush hour as the ordeal stretched toward 36 hours.
"Our primary concern is the safety of human life," said U.S. Park Police Chief Teresa Chambers, including the life of "the subject," farmer Dwight W. Watson, 50, of Rocky Mount, N.C.
Police, who have been talking to Mr. Watson via cell phone and bullhorns since noon Monday, would not give details of the talks. They said they have not had face-to-face contact.
Mr. Watson reportedly is demonstrating against U.S. agriculture-support policies that he says have driven him and other farmers out of business, with more following.
There also were reports that he might have explosives in one of the vehicles the Jeep, a trailer and a John Deere tractor that he drove into the garden pond at Constitution Gardens near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Mr. Watson drove the vehicles into about 3 feet of water just before noon Monday.
Police then blocked Constitution Avenue NW between 15th and 23rd streets and limited traffic on other arteries, jamming rush hour Monday night and again yesterday morning and last night.
"We believe the person's dangerous," Park Police spokesman Sgt. Scott Fear said. "We would love to have him in our custody. … We're being very patient. Public safety and loss of life is our main concern."
About noon yesterday, Mr. Watson drove the tractor a few feet farther to face another direction. A U.S. flag, upside down, was on one side of the tractor; a flag depicting tobacco leaves fluttered on the other side. Mr. Watson was seen a couple of times opening windows and extending his arms outside.
Police said they did not know what he was doing for food and drink or for a bathroom.
Sgt. Fear said once Mr. Watson is in custody, his mental state probably would be evaluated and a decision made about criminal charges.
Authorities reportedly contacted Mr. Watson's family in North Carolina. He was a military policeman in the 82d Airborne Division in the 1970s.
Chief Chambers commended commuters for showing understanding and patience.
Police snipers were among the more than 200 law enforcement officers on the scene.
The Red Cross distributed soft drinks and refreshments yesterday to police, most of whom had been on duty nearly 12 hours.
The Department of Interior South Building was closed yesterday. Employees in the Federal Reserve and National Academy of Sciences were allowed to take liberal leave.
Several employees stayed overnight Monday in their offices at the Office of Personnel Management, one block north of the standoff, said Linda Hurt, 54, of Alexandria.
Miss Hurt couldn't get to her car, which was parked on Constitution Avenue. She has difficulty walking with a cane, so she decided not to use Metro to get home.
"It's understandable," Miss Hurt said of the police blockade, but she was concerned that her car might be ticketed because, she said, police rigorously enforce parking limits.
"They said he was drinking beer," Miss Hurt said, adding that police have told motorists that their cars would not be ticketed in the blocked-off area. She took the Metro home last evening.
The standoff came at a bad time for the American Pharmaceutical Association in the 70-year-old concrete building on the corner of Constitution Avenue and 23rd Street.
"We're getting ready for our annual meeting in New Orleans," said Vice President Roger K. Browning. "When we learned that others were going to be closed, we decided to do the same."
Mr. Browning hoped that the standoff would end yesterday and expected that an 18-wheeler would load up materials today to take to the meeting.
Another person hoping that the standoff would end yesterday was a guard at the Federal Reserve building so that "things clear up and I can go home."
Although the monuments remained open except the statue of Albert Einstein across from the Lincoln Memorial the blocked streets interfered with tourists, including Ritchie Rache, 27, of Reidsville, N.C., and three students from George Washington University.
"I'd go and take the guy out," said Mr. Rache, as he contemplated a way to get from the Lincoln Memorial to the east end of the Mall.
"I'd diagnose him as a psychotic," said a GW student, who is majoring in psychology, and asked that her name not be used.
Officer Barbara Brinson stood at the corner of her post at the Federal Reserve, where she could see the tractor's flashing lights.
"He's really not doing anything so far," she said.

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