Originally created 07/05/97

Men with assault rifle ambush van



Four friends left Regency Mall early Friday afternoon, heading toward home. Only three were alive by the time their bullet-riddled van screeched to a stop near Medical College of Georgia Hospital.

In a several-minute span that meant a lifetime to Sherad Cunningham, 20, two men in a dark-blue, 1960s model car with chrome wheels, who apparently did not know the foursome, ambushed their Mitsubishi van on Deans Bridge Road, then tracked them down several streets later and ambushed the van again.

"It is (bizarre)," said Richmond County Chief Deputy Ronald Strength.

Mr. Cunningham, of the 2000 block of Olive Road, was dead on arrival at MCG, shot in the back of the head, left arm and left side by what sheriff's deputies believe was an AK-47 assault rifle. He was seated in the back seat on the driver's side of the van.

Mr. Cunningham's girlfriend, Denise Rivera, 16, of the same address, was shot in the shoulder as she sat next to him. She was treated and released from MCG. The van's driver, David Cobb, 18, of the 1600 block of Luckie Street, was listed in good condition at MCG on Friday evening, shot in the left arm and left side.

A fourth friend, Sylvester Fountain, 19, of the 1400 block of Channing Court, leaped from his front-passenger side seat during the second ambush and ran, escaping uninjured, police said.

All three surviving victims were able to talk with police and all three told this story:

At 2:22 p.m., Mr. Cunningham, Mr. Cobb, Ms. Rivera and Mr. Fountain piled into the van, left the mall parking lot and headed downtown on Deans Bridge Road. They were in the left-hand lane, traveling behind a dark-blue car, which had its left blinker on, apparently signaling a turn onto Murphy Road. Mr. Cobb pulled his van into the right-hand lane to go around the car.

As the van pulled alongside the car, "The front passenger leaned out of the vehicle and started firing from a rifle," Chief Deputy Strength said. Shell casings indicate the rifle was an AK-47, he said.

Mr. Cobb headed the van toward MCG, while the car made the turn onto Murphy Road, the chief deputy said. Several minutes later, the injured friends noticed the car behind them again, this time at Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and 15th Street.

"The suspect vehicle had to take a right (turn) and go toward them, so it looks like they were looking for them again," Chief Deputy Strength said.

Mr. Cobb sped the van down several other streets, trying to evade the car, police said. But at the intersection at Sunset Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, the car caught up - and started firing again.

At this point, Mr. Fountain ran, Chief Deputy Strength said. Mr. Cobb pulled the van into the Gilbert Manor housing projects and headed down a service road that connects to a walkway near the back of MCG. There, the injured friends shouted for help, which came quickly from the nearby hospital, Chief Deputy Strength said.

"All their stories are the same," he said.

Which is why police are flummoxed. If the foursome knew their attackers, or had done something while driving to anger the men, there would be some explanation for the shootings. But the people in the van couldn't even tell police if the two men they saw were young or old, Chief Deputy Strength said.

"If there was nothing done and for no reason somebody shot into your van, we always think they knew each other or did something ... but we don't have any information at this time that the people in the van knew who did the shooting," Chief Deputy Strength said.

There were witnesses and police have several leads, the chief deputy said. But the victims couldn't say when each was hit by the gunfire or how many shots were fired. They don't know exactly how long the violence lasted and cannot give police a better description of the car or the two men, Chief Deputy Strength said.

"We just don't know," he said.