Armed Fence Scaler, Secret Service Agent Wounded in Shooting
WASHINGTON (AP) _ A Virginia man carrying a handgun raced to within 30 to 50 yards of the White House before being shot in a scuffle with Secret Service officers. He was subdued not far from where President Clinton had stepped from his limousine just a half hour earlier.
One of the Secret Service officers also was shot in the incident late Tuesday night, which occurred after the suspect scaled a 10-foot fence in the third breach of security at the White House in the past eight months. It came only days after a number of extraordinary security precautions had been put in place around the executive mansion.
The suspect was identified as Leland William Modjeski, 37, of Falls Church, Va., a Washington suburb. He will be charged today, most likely on charges that include trespassing at the White House and carrying a firearm, said Secret Service officials who talked on the condition of anonymity.
The uniformed Secret Service officer who first confronted him, Scott Giamattista, 35, also was wounded during the struggle, apparently from the same bullet, Treasury Undersecretary Ron Noble said.
Both were hit in the arm and taken to nearby George Washington Hospital just after 11 p.m. They were listed in stable condition early today with wounds described as not life-threatening.
Clinton and his family were ``never in any danger″ and were in the living quarters of the White House at the time of the incident, a Treasury Department statement said. The Secret Service is part of Treasury.
Treasury and Secret Service officials said they had no immediate indication of possible motivation.
The episode occurred despite a succession of increasingly stringent security measures, culminating in the closing of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House just three days ago.
The closing of the avenue, and of a smaller road behind the White House complex, were intended to protect the White House from car or truck bombs, such as the one used in the Oklahoma City federal office building bombing last month.
The street closings had no bearing on Wednesday’s incident, which occurred on the other side of the White House from Pennsylvania and involved an intruder on foot.
However, other tightened security measures _ including the posting of additional uninformed guards and more barricades _ had been put in place after a gunman with an assault rifle sprayed the front of the White House last October.
Officials said Modjeski went over a section of the wrought-iron fence along the southeast corner of the grounds, then raced across the lawn to near the East Wing of the White House.
Just 30 minutes before, Clinton’s motorcade had passed nearby on his way home from speaking at a Democratic event at a local hotel.
Officials said a car believed to belong to Modjeski _ a light blue sedan with Virginia plates _ was parked nearby and was closely investigated for a possible bomb.
Secret Service spokesman Carl Meyer said Modjeski was not among the list of people considered a risk to the president. ``He’s not one we’ve been watching,″ Meyer said.
Fairfax County and Falls Church police had no records on Modjeski.
Meyer said the suspect climbed the fence about 10:45 p.m. and tripped the elaborate alarm systems. At least two agents confronted Modjeski and a struggle broke out, officials said.
Giambattista was first to spot the suspect and yelled at him to stop. ``When he didn’t stop, Giambattista went after him. A struggle ensued,″ Meyer said.
In the scuffle, Giambattista spotted or felt the handgun, a .38 caliber revolver, yelled ``weapon″ and asked for help, officials said. They said a second officer, who was not identified, fired.
The officer was shot in his arm, while the suspect was wounded in his upper body, George Washington Hospital spokeswoman Merle Goldberg said.
``We know our officers fired one shot,″ Meyer said. He speculated that the bullet passed first through the suspect and then hit the Secret Service officer.
Noble, who heads the law enforcement division at Treasury, said the closing of Pennsylvania Avenue was intended to prevent bombings, not fence jumpings.
The only way to keep all intruders off the grounds would be to have ``elbow-to-elbow Secret Service agents around the complex,″ Noble told The Associated Press early today. ``The system worked tonight.″
Officials said they did not know if Modjeski was in the area 30 minutes earlier, when Clinton’s motorcade entered the Southeast Gate and drove up to the mansion.
Modjeski’s car was found near the point where the motorcade entered the compound.
The suspect was apprehended just south of a Secret Service post near the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden, Meyer said. He said the revolver was recovered.
D.C. paramedic, Virginia Beall said the two men were carried out of an ambulance on stretcher at the hospital, with the suspect waving his hand. She said the bullet that hit the suspect ``hit an artery″ and that ``he lost a lot of blood. He was in bad shape.″
She said doctors were ``doing an exploratory″ surgery on the suspect.
Neighbors said Modjeski and his wife, Rose Mary, had lived in a brick townhouse in Falls Church, a Washington suburb, for many years.
``I was very surprised,″ said Meredith Kimbro, a government employee who lives next door. ``There was certainly nothing to indicate any political motivation. I wouldn’t know whether they voted Democrat or Republican. I know very little about them.″
Giambattista is believed to be the first Secret Service agent assigned to the president’s detail wounded on duty since 1981, when agent Timothy McCarthy was shot during the attack on Ronald Reagan.
A White House security report issued Saturday said a fence-jumper was shot and killed in 1976. Chester Plummer, a local taxi driver with a criminal history, carried a three-foot metal pipe over the fence and threatened officers with it.
The Secret Service has logged 23 fence-jumpings between 1989 and 1994. The recent rash of security breaches began last September when a pilot stole a plane and smashed it into the White House lawn. It bounced up against the structure. The pilot lost his life.