WASHINGTON — U.S. marshals and police arrested a dangerous ex-convict and took his five companions into custody, safely ending a multi-state manhunt in the slayings of a wealthy Washington family and their housekeeper.
The fugitive task force tracked Daron Dylon Wint to New York and back before they caught up with him late May 21 in the parking lot of a Howard Johnson Express Inn in College Park, Maryland, authorities said.
Dozens of officers quietly tailed a car and truck into the nation’s capital and then swarmed in so quickly that the group surrendered without a fight.
“We had overwhelming numbers and force,” Robert Fernandez, Commander of the U.S. Marshal Service’s Capital Area Regional Fugitive Task Force, told The Associated Press. “They completely submitted immediately.”
Police have not detailed why Wint — a welder who once worked for Savvas Savopoulos’ American Iron Works company — would want to kill the executive, his wife Amy, their 10-year-old son Philip, and their housekeeper Veralicia Figueroa.
Three of the four had been stabbed or bludgeoned before their mansion was set on fire on May 14.
Wint, 34, was arrested about 11 p.m. on charges of first-degree murder while armed, D.C. police and the Marshals Service said.
He was expected to appear in D.C. Superior Court on the afternoon of May 22. Wint is the only person currently charged and the only one of the group expected to make a court appearance.
Investigators narrowly missed Wint in New York’s Brooklyn borough the night of May 20. “We believe he saw himself on the news and just took off,” Fernandez said.
Investigators tracked Wint to the motel in Maryland, where they quickly realized he was probably in one of two vehicles in the parking lot.
The car and truck left together, and the team followed as they took a U-turn and a strange route, either getting lost or trying to shake them, Fernandez said.
A police helicopter joined the pursuit from above, and officers eventually got between the two vehicles in northeast Washington. Wint surrendered without a fight and seemed “stoic” as he, two other men and three women were taken into custody, Fernandez said.
“I don’t think they knew we were tailing them until the moment we swarmed in on them,” said Fernandez.
The truck belongs to Amerit Fleet Solutions, and is basically a rolling garage, equipped to service and repair vehicles away from any fixed location. Spokeswoman Karen Vinton said the California-based company is aware that the truck was involved, and is cooperating with authorities.
Fernandez said he noticed a big wad of cash in the truck, but didn’t know how much was there. It was not clear whether that money might have been connected to the Savopoulos family. Fernandez said he did not know whether the group was carrying any weapons before local police took them into custody.
Police on May 21 did not rule out the possibility that other people were involved in the slayings, but said no other suspects had been identified.
Wint had worked for American Iron Works, where Savopoulos was the Chief Executive. The construction-materials supplier based in Hyattsville, Maryland, has been involved in major projects in downtown Washington.
The Savopouloses lived in a $4.5 million home in Woodley Park, where mansions are protected by fences and security systems and law enforcement is a constant presence, in part because Vice President Joe Biden’s official residence is nearby.
Messages from the couple in the hours before their slayings confused and frightened their household staff and the slain housekeeper’s husband, who said later they felt something was amiss inside the mansion. The executive’s Porsche was later found in suburban Maryland, also set on fire.
DNA analysis at a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms lab linked Wint to the crime, a law enforcement official involved in the investigation told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity for lack of authorization to discuss the investigation publicly.
Wint has a record of violent offenses.
He was arrested once in 2006 and twice in 2007 for assault in Oswego County, N.Y., Undersheriff Gene Sullivan said.
He was released in July 2008 after serving a 10-month sentence, and then convicted again of assaulting a girlfriend in Maryland in 2009. In 2010, he pleaded guilty to malicious destruction of property after he allegedly broke into a woman’s apartment, stole a television, vandalized her car and threatened to kill her infant daughter.
“The defendant advised he was good with a knife and could kill them easily and was not afraid of the police,” a detective wrote.
Also in 2010, Wint was arrested carrying a 2-foot-long machete and a BB pistol outside the American Iron Works headquarters, but weapons charges were dropped after he pleaded guilty to possessing an open container of alcohol.
Attorney Robin Ficker said Wint didn’t seem violent when he defended him in earlier cases. “He’s a very nice person,” Ficker said.
A housekeeper who worked for the Savopoulos family for 20 years, Nelitza Gutierrez, told the AP that she believes the family and Figueroa were held captive for nearly a day before they were killed, citing an unusual voice mail from Savopoulos and a text message sent from the phone of his wife, telling her not to come to the house.
The text message read, in part, “I am making sure you are not coming today.” Gutierrez said she called and texted back but got no response.
The family’s two teenage daughters were away at boarding school at the time. On May 22, the family thanked law enforcement and firefighters, and said they wouldn’t give interviews.
“Our family, and Vera’s family, have suffered unimaginable loss, and we ask for the time and space to grieve privately,” the statement says.
Representatives of American Iron Works have repeatedly declined to comment.
By Ben Nuckols. Contributors include Alex Brandon, Sarah Brumfield and Jessica Gresko in Washington, Meredith Somers in Upper Marlboro, Maryland; Colleen Long in New York City and Carolyn Thompson in Buffalo