Washington Post, June 4, 2013
An outage cut the lights on Ontario Road NW in Adams Morgan early Tuesday, and then the shots began to ring out in the blackness — pep, pep, pep — as many as 20 in all.
Before the power came back on, a father of five who drove a cab at night so he could take his children to school lay dying on the street, a gun battle erupted between police and two men, and a family cowered as the gunmen came crashing through their door.
Both were captured, and one was charged with first-degree murder.
The chaos just around the corner from 18th Street NW’s busy stretch of bars and restaurants claimed the life of Solomon J. Okoroh, 57, of Glenarden and shocked longtime residents, who had thought such violence was part of the past in a neighborhood that has become one of the city’s most popular night-life destinations.
Witnesses said the events unfolded in seconds.
“It was terrifying,” Valerie Velazco said. “I heard screeching tires, glass shatter, and then I looked out my window and saw someone lying next to the cab in the street. Then the gunfire started.”
D.C. police said the incident began about 3:15 a.m., when officers in a robbery unit patrolling the 2400 block of Ontario Road saw a taxi drive by and heard a gunshot.
The cab crashed into a parking meter and a street sign, and the men — 32-year-old Ercell Overton of Northwest and 24-year-old Joshua King of Hyattsville — fled south on foot toward Kalorama Road, police said. Shortly after, a neighbor saw Okoroh, covered in blood, lying next to his cab.
Co-workers remembered Okoroh as a “proud father.”
Evelyn Ruiz, the owner of Classic Cab, said Okoroh had been a driver for her company for 15 years and had immigrated to the United States from Nigeria. One of Okoroh’s sons, Prince, is a guard on the Howard University basketball team and won a scholarship to attend the school.
Ruiz said one of Okoroh’s daughters had gone to a school prom in recent weeks at the Grand Hyatt Washington. Ruiz said that Okoroh regularly drove his fares to the hotel but that he had never been inside.
Okoroh rented a black car for the event and chauffeured his daughter. Ruiz said one of Okoroh’s thrills was finally stepping inside the hotel he had visited so many times when dropping off passengers.
A person who answered the door at Okoroh’s home said his family was too distraught to comment.
Ruiz said Okoroh picked up every fare. She hopes it didn’t get him killed.
“He always said he was here to make money, so it didn’t matter what race or nationality a customer was,” Ruiz said. “He wouldn’t pass up anyone.”
The brown-and-cream Classic Cab taxi remains where it crashed, with a shattered rear passenger window and an unclaimed receipt hanging from the meter.
Police chased the shooters down the block, and one fired shots at the officers, who then returned fire, authorities said.
Ten bullet holes dotted a painted fence next to the home of John and Jen Wilcox, who live at Kalorama and Ontario with their 12-year-old son.
The gunmen ran around the fence and either shot or kicked in the door to the Wilcoxes’ basement apartment, they said.
The Wilcoxes’ roommate, who declined to be named, said he was awakened by the crash of the taxi and fled through a back entrance of the basement apartment when he heard the gunfire. He said he made it out just seconds before the shooters spilled inside. In the darkness of the outage, he said, police confused him for one of the men.
“About 10 cops tackled me to the ground on Kalorama. . . . I was scared as hell,” the man said.
The Wilcoxes said they were in a second-floor office when police approached on the sidewalk below and told them, through a window, to stay put as officers searched the home for suspects. The family bolted the door and waited; the suspects were taken into custody in the home a short time later. They were not injured during the gun battle, and a gun was recovered, police said.
“Somewhere in the midst of all this craziness the lights came on,” Jen Wilcox said.
A Pepco spokeswoman said a power outage struck about 2,500 customers in Adams Morgan about 1 a.m. and was linked to an underground equipment failure. Power was restored by 6 a.m.
Okoroh was taken to a hospital, where he was declared dead.
Police said they are investigating whether Okoroh was shot as part of a robbery, a dispute or something else. Overton has been charged with first-degree murder, felony assault on a police officer and burglary. King has been charged with an unrelated probation violation.
Court records show that Overton has faced legal troubles, including guilty pleas for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, attempted threats to do bodily harm and attempted possession of a controlled substance. Court records were not available for King, other than the alleged probation violation.
Violent crime has dropped dramatically in Adams Morgan in recent years, as it has across the city. According to police statistics, homicides dropped in the 3rd Police District from 20 in 2007 to 11 in 2011. Robberies fell less dramatically, from nearly 1,000 in 2007 to 829 in 2011.
Maggie Fazeli Fard and Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.