Pittsburgh crews clearing crime lairs in East End

'It's about eliminating areas where there are opportunities for people to shoot guns. ... call them ambush sites.'


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Concerned that suspects have been hiding in overgrown weeds and plants prior to shootings, Pittsburgh officials on Tuesday sent Public Works crews to clear out about two dozen vacant lots near crime scenes in the East End.

Three teams of workers cut the overgrown brush in the lots and removed debris while police officers with K-9s searched the area and occasionally recovered ammunition left behind from a previous shooting. Today, they plan to return to spray for weeds and board up vacant homes, where people often hide or discard their evidence.

Public Safety Director Michael Huss said he considered asking crews to clean up the area after a man was shot in Larimer last week by someone who'd been hiding in the brush. When officers from the city's Zone 5 station in Highland Park received four calls in about five hours for shots fired or people wounded in shootings, one critically, Mr. Huss sped up those plans.

"This has a specific purpose. It's not about beautification or anything like that," he said. "It's about eliminating areas where there are opportunities for people to shoot guns. I call them ambush sites."

PG graphic: Pittsburgh police zones
(Click image for larger version)

Zone 5 Commander Timothy O'Connor said his officers remained busy Monday night into Tuesday morning while they received one call after another for shots fired in the area they patrol.

The first call came just after 8:30 p.m. in the 1500 block of North Lang Avenue in Homewood, where someone reported that shots had struck a house and a car but no one was injured.

The second came about 12:20 a.m., when a caller to 911 reported that a man with gunshot wounds had stumbled into the Lounge 7101 2nd Time Around bar on Frankstown Avenue asking for help.

Police later learned that the 24-year-old man, whose name has not been released, was sitting in the driver's seat of a 2013 Chevy Camaro parked at Frankstown and North Lang avenues when a man "approached out of a heavily weeded lot and the brush and opened fire on him," Cmdr. O'Connor said.

The victim was hit multiple times, in the torso and in the right arm. The suspect ran away.

Investigators found 10 spent shell casings from a semi-automatic firearm on the sidewalk near the passenger side of the car, Major Crimes Lt. Kevin Kraus said in a news release.

Medics took the victim, who at one time lived in Homewood, to UPMC Presbyterian, and his condition was upgraded after he underwent surgery.

Lt. Kraus said detectives were not releasing any information about a motive or a suspect in the shooting Tuesday.

Less than 45 minutes after that shooting, just before 1 a.m., police received a call that someone shot at a man in the 6500 block of Rowan Street in Lincoln-Lemington but missed him and instead struck a car.

Then, between 1:30 and 2 a.m., a 23-year-old Swissvale man walked into UPMC Mercy with a gunshot wound to his leg. Officers from the Zone 2 station in the Hill District spoke to the man, who told them he was walking in the 800 block of Bennett Street in Homewood when he "heard loud noises and felt pain," said Cmdr. O'Connor, whose officers are now investigating.

Cmdr. O'Connor said officers are attempting to determine whether there is any connection among the shootings.

In the meantime, Mr. Huss said he hoped the cleanup efforts would reduce the number of opportunities people have to commit crimes in hiding or ditch evidence and will give residents some peace of mind.

"Some of these people really take nice care of their properties and their cars got shot up last night across from a vacant [lot]," he said. "These people are living in fear. We're just trying to eliminate some of those opportunities."

Police asked anyone with information about the shootings to call Zone 5 detectives at 412-665-3605. If referencing the shooting in which a man was critically wounded, they also can call police headquarters at 412-323-7800.

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Liz Navratil: lnavratil@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1438 or on Twitter @LizNavratil. First Published August 28, 2013 4:00 AM


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