14th & Irving Streets NW, Washington DC 6sept09

According to court records, Sergio Lopez was arrested for assault with intent to kill on April 1 at approximately 8 p.m at 14th and Monroe Streets NW. Word is, the victim of the assault was a well-known Columbia Heights street vendor who sets up a table outside Speedy Liquors at 3328 14th St. NW.

At Speedy Liquors, on a hot spring day, customers won’t say much about what happened to the vendor they know only as Jeff. Just that someone stabbed him and that they hear he’s out of the hospital.

Speedy Liquors owner John—who asked that his last name not be used—is similarly reticent about the stabbing, but he’ll tell you plenty about Jeff. When he first met him, the vendor was selling his wares, stuff like scented oils, out of his car—which he parked near the store. “The guy didn’t have anything,” says John. After a while, John offered to let Jeff set up a table outside his storefront, just because.

A year later, Jeff has become a fixture. John lets him keep his stuff in the back, and run an extension cord inside so Jeff can play his boom box (he likes everything from rap to oldies) and plug in a light for when it gets dark. John says the seller works from about noon to 8 p.m.

John seems to be fond of Jeff. But standing behind a long stretch of cloudy bulletproof glass, he stops short of calling Jeff a friend. Jeff is kind of a strange guy, he says.

For one thing, he’s a former boxer who’s fanatical about keeping in shape. To that end, he sometimes sets up a bench press and weights near his vending table, so he can pump iron right there on the busy 14th Street sidewalk. “He sets it up if he’s bored,” John explains. “If business is slow he’ll weight lift.”

This means that, despite getting up there in age—John guesses Jeff is 48 or 49—the vendor is in “tip-top shape.” That’s lucky. The muscles are what backs up what John describes as his quick temper. He won’t hesitate to go after someone he thinks is doing something wrong: “I’ve been telling him, calm down…”

Court documents say that on the day he was stabbed, Jeff’s temper may have been a contributing factor to things going wrong. While Jeff was standing at his table, Lopez apparently bumped into him. Jeff told Lopez to watch out and the two began arguing. Lopez told Jeff that he would stab him, and left.

Twenty minutes later, according to the documents, Lopez returned with a knife tucked in his waistband. He pulled it, and stabbed Jeff in his lower abdomen.  The vendor fell back and Lopez went towards him, seemingly to stab him again. Jeff ran into the street. Lopez fled. Bleeding, Jeff returned to his table and collapsed. When a witness flagged down a police cruiser, cops found the vendor Lopez in a pool of blood, documents say, “with organs hanging outside of his body.”

“Things are going to get bad after this incident,” says John. But he’s not talking about Jeff’s recovery (police confirm he’s out of the hospital); he’s talking about the local advisory neighborhood commission, ANC1A05, going after Jeff. They’ve already been making things tough for Speedy Liquors, he says, because they believe the place attracts an unwanted element. Now, John hears through the grapevine that the guardians of community standards are going to try to force Jeff from his sidewalk. “I really don’t want to let him go.”

“He seems as if he was very nice,” says an elderly customer who’s been listening in. John gives a thin smile.