$2 pen triggers slaying in Md., suicide in Va. Gunman kills another man, himself after offer is rejected

August 26, 1993|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,Staff Writer Staff writer John A. Morris contributed to this article.

With police closing in, an Arnold man committed suicide in Virginia yesterday, five hours after killing a 21-year-old college student who had refused to sell him a dime-store pen in a Severna Park doughnut shop.

After stopping on a Norfolk, Va., street with a police cruiser about 100 yards behind his car, Thomas Joseph Cummings, 24, raised a 9 mm handgun to his head and pulled the trigger. He died instantly.

The pen he had killed for was still in his victim's pocket back in Maryland, Anne Arundel County police said.

Virginia State Police, alerted that Mr. Cummings could be heading their way, had been trailing his silver 1990 Dodge Shadow since it crossed a bridge carrying Interstate 64 into Norfolk.

A police officer in a marked cruiser had been following the car and was about to turn on his lights and siren when Mr. Cummings pulled over to the side of the street about 8:30 a.m. and killed himself.

Mr. Cummings had fled a Severna Park Dunkin Donuts shop after killing Charles H. Willis of Smuggler's Cove Road in Severna Park about 3:15 a.m.

Mr. Willis had lent Mr. Cummings his pen but was killed when he refused to sell it to him.

After shooting Mr. Willis almost a dozen times, "he walked out the door cool, calm and collected," said Sgt. Robert Jaschik, who commands the county police homicide unit.

Witnesses saw Mr. Cummings, who lived with his parents in the 700 block of Mac Sherry Drive, head south on Ritchie Highway without his lights on, Sergeant Jaschik said. Once out of the state, he called his family from a pay phone and told them what he had done. His parents called the police, and investigators put a trace on all calls that came to the house.

"He called back at least twice," Sergeant Jaschik said. "He said he was out of state and going to leave the country."

His parents told police their son might be heading for Norfolk. Rebecca Feaster, spokeswoman for the Virginia State Police, said investigators there think Mr. Cummings was once stationed in the Virginia Beach area with the Navy.

Virginia police were notified, and at 7:30 a.m., state police ZTC Trooper W. E. Hoggard pulled into the median strip of I-64, just beyond the Hampton Roads tunnel, and began watching the eastbound lanes. Before long, a car matching the description of Mr. Cummings' passed Trooper Hoggard at the posted 55 mph speed limit. He followed, without turning on his siren or lights, 75 to 100 yards behind.

Mr. Cummings left the highway, then stopped at a red light before running it. He then turned right onto East Little Creek Road, stopped, opened the driver's-side door and peered back at the trooper, who had stopped about 100 yards away.

Closing his door, Mr. Cummings continued down East Little Creek Road, traveling about 10 mph below the posted 35 mph limit.

Trooper Hoggard was about to turn on his lights and siren when he saw the driver raise a large-caliber handgun to his head and pull the trigger.

The car coasted about 100 yards across westbound traffic into the parking lot of the S.S.S. Carwash, where it crashed into the grill of a parked Norfolk police car.

Bryant Tibbetts, an auto detailer who was buffing the police car at the time, said two police officers who had returned to the car moments before had yelled for him to get out of the way.

"The next thing I heard was a pop and the guy [driving the Dodge Shadow] slumped over toward the passenger side," Mr. Tibbetts said.

Inside the car, police found another pen, black with a gold tip and cap, on the front passenger seat and covered with blood.

Yesterday's violence began about 3:15 a.m. Mr. Willis, who was inside the doughnut shop with two friends, had lent Mr. Cummings his pen more than once. Each time, Mr. Cummmings jotted down notes from a phone conversation he was having and returned the pen.

Sergeant Jaschik said that when Mr. Willis first lent his pen to Mr. Cummings, he walked over to a pay phone in the restaurant and wrote something down. He gave the pen back to Mr. Willis and then asked again to borrow it.

The sergeant said Mr. Willis lent the pen two more times to Mr. Cummings, who each time returned to the pay phone and wrote something down before giving it back to Mr. Willis. Mr. Cummings then offered to buy the pen for $2 but was turned down. Mr. Willis told him the pen had sentimental value, Sergeant Jaschik said.

The two men were sitting a few seats apart when Mr. Cummings asked Mr. Willis over to his table.

"As the victim walked over, the suspect fired five shots," Sergeant Jaschik said. "As he is firing, he kept saying: 'I want that pen, I want that pen.' "

Mr. Willis' two friends, the only other customers in the shop, ducked under the table as Mr. Cummings pointed the gun at them.

"Then he fired about five more shots at Mr. Willis," Sergeant Jaschik said.

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