Police arrest five men in connection with Mon Valley gunfights

Rankin police arrested five men Thursday following a daylong gun battle that traveled between two Mon Valley communities and left five others injured, court records show.

A tan Saturn chased a silver Pontiac down Fifth Avenue near Hawkins Village around 7:10 p.m. Wednesday, Rankin police officer Mary Somasundaram wrote in court documents. A man hung out the Saturn’s window, firing at the Pontiac, Rankin police chief Ryan Wooten said Wednesday. The Pontiac’s back window was shot out, but no one was hurt.

Housing Authority police stopped the vehicles and held them at gunpoint until backup arrived, the chief said. The men in the Saturn were ordered to drop their weapons, and police later found a 9 mm Glock in the car, to court documents said.

About 150 people had gathered near Hawkins Village on Wednesday night while at least a dozen police departments processed the crime scene. They found multiple 9 mm Ruger casings on the streets. Police detained the men in both vehicles, Officer Somasundaram wrote.

Derik Benzo, 19, of Braddock faces a felony count of carrying a firearm without a license; three counts each of felony aggravated assault and reckless endangerment, a misdemeanor; and a summary count of carrying a loaded weapon.

Police said he tried to harm Shaquawn Cole, Charles Payne III, and John Stefano, who were in the Pontiac.

Mr. Benzo worked with Darelle Tolbert-McGhee, 25, who has been charged with six felony counts of conspiracy, court records show. Police initially arrested Mr. Tolbert-McGhee as a John Doe, as he had his twin brother’s ID on him, but court workers confirmed his name Thursday. An address him was not available.

On the ground near the Pontiac, police found a small baggie of suspected crack cocaine, according to criminal complaints.

Mr. Cole, 18, of Rankin; Mr. Payne, 21, of Swissvale; and Mr. Stefano, 22, of Turtle Creek each face a felony conspiracy charge and three misdemeanor drug violations, court records show. Mr. Stefano also was charged with a fourth drug violation. Police said the men worked together. They were also found to be in possession of what police believed to be heroin, criminal complaints show.

Mr. Benzo, Mr. Cole, Mr. Payne and Mr. Tolbert-McGhee are being held at the Allegheny County Jail in lieu of $175,000 bail each. Mr. Stefano’s bail was set at $25,000. None of the men had attorneys listed on their court paperwork. Their preliminary hearings are scheduled for August 7 before Judge Richard Olasz, Jr.

In two earlier shootings on Wednesday, one man was shot and injured in Rankin, and hours later, four men were shot and injured in North Braddock. Police said all three shootings were connected.

Charles Moffatt, superintendent of the Allegheny County police, said Thursday through a woman at his office that there were no updates on the North Braddock shooting. Chief Wooten could not be reached for comment Thursday.


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