Monessen officials link man's killing to drugs

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Two masked gunmen apparently bound a man with duct tape before shooting him Tuesday in Monessen, shocking the Westmoreland County city in a killing that officials believe was drug-related.

The victim, Dennis Fitzwater, 31, was released last Thursday from the Westmoreland County Prison, where he had been held since May 17 on drug charges. Police said he was staying with friends in a home on Chestnut Street.

About 11:30 p.m. Tuesday, police received a 911 call about the shooting from a woman who lives at the home with her boyfriend and two children, ages 2 and 5. They were not injured.

Fitzwater was shot once in the throat and died at the scene, Monessen police Chief John Mandarino said.

The victim had duct tape wrapped around one wrist, leading investigators to believe he had been bound and had broken free, the chief said, adding that there were no signs of forced entry at the home and nothing was stolen.

"They were there for a purpose," Chief Mandarino said. "What the purpose was is still under investigation."

Fitzwater's recent arrest was the latest addition to a lengthy criminal record, including a 2008 guilty plea to felony drug charges.

"We didn't have this when I was a young guy," Monessen Mayor Louis Mavrakis, 76, said about the killing and other violence in the town in recent years.

Mr. Mavrakis, a lifelong Monessen resident who took office in January, pointed to the economic decline of the area as a cause of the violence.

"When people are financially destitute, what are you going to do?" he said.

Patricia Bukowski, 71, who was sworn in as a member of the city council in January, said she saw the killing as a consequence of a serious heroin problem in the area.

"It's not a new problem," she said. "I think it's escalating.

"The problem is, we never get to the big guys," she said, referring to high-level dealers. "And I don't know why. We get a lot of the mid-level."

Investigators obtained a warrant to search the home and yard Wednesday in their hunt for the two assailants.

Matt Nussbaum: or 412-263-1504. Molly Born contributed. First Published May 28, 2014 6:52 AM


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