Second suspect charged in Clairton shooting; comrades gather to honor wounded officers
April 9, 2011 4:00 AM
Bev Kuzak, center, mother of Clairton office James Kuzak, who was shot on duty, leads a candle vigil at Memorial Park in Clairton.
Allegheny County Police
Clairton police Sgt. James Creely and his daughter, Brittany, 15, join a vigil in Clairton for Officer James Kuzak, who was shot on duty this week.
Castle Shannon Police Officer James Fleckenstein, with his K-9 Riad, prays during a vigil for Clairton police Officer James Kuzak, who was shot while on duty this week.
By Sadie Gurman and Moriah Balingit Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
As police officers gathered in support of a wounded comrade Friday night, Allegheny County police said they arrested a second suspect in the shooting of Clairton police Officer James Kuzak.
Marcus Andrejco-Jones, of Rankin, was being held in the Allegheny County Jail on $500,000 straight bond on a variety of charges, including assault of a police officer, aggravated assault, burglary, robbery and unlawful restraint.
Police said he was arrested without incident at his apartment in Hawkins Village in Rankin.
The arrest was announced late Friday, hours after officers and friends of Officer Kuzak held a prayer vigil in a park pavilion in Clairton, which calls itself the "City of Prayer."
Among those in attendance was the Rev. Nick Mastrangelo, who earlier this week went to the hospital bedside of Officer Kuzak, who was critically wounded in Monday night's shooting.
As the two men joined hands to pray the Lord's Prayer, Father Mastrangelo said he was impressed by the tightness of his grasp, a sign, he believed, that Officer Kuzak possessed "power, strength, hope," he said in at a vigil Friday evening.
More than 200 community members and police officers from across Western Pennsylvania gathered at the vigil, where speakers spoke of the healing power of prayer and implored the crowd to not take for granted the dangerous work of law enforcement.
Police said, too, that the frightening and brazen shooting drove home the dangerous and unpredictable nature of their job.
Earlier that day, a judge denied bail for Myles J. Huthchinson, of McKeesport, the first suspect charged in the shooting.
Mr. Hutchinson, 21, "poses a threat to the community" and will remain in jail at least until next week, Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Edward Borkowski ruled Friday over objections from the man's attorney, who said he has video evidence of his client's innocence.
Judge Borkowski said that the gravity of the charges against Mr. Hutchinson and his past encounters with the law warranted his continued confinement until a preliminary hearing Tuesday, when the issue of bail can again be addressed.
Mr. Hutchinson is charged with two dozen criminal charges stemming from the Monday night home invasion, in which police said he and another man burst out of a back door of a home on Miller Avenue in Clairton and fired on Officer Kuzak, who was struck three times. He also is charged with indecent assault, as police said he sexually assaulted a woman inside the home while demanding drugs and cash at gunpoint.
Mr. Hutchinson's attorney, Fred Rabner, said he met with his client for the first time Friday in the Allegheny County Jail, and "he is steadfast in his denial of any involvement in this."
Mr. Rabner told reporters that he is trying to gather video surveillance from gas stations, local businesses and neighborhoods that would prove his client was elsewhere during the home invasion, though he would not elaborate.
"He beseeched the officers investigating this to go back and follow his path that night and find the videos from the gas stations" that show where he was, Mr. Rabner said.
Allegheny County homicide detectives charged Mr. Hutchinson after the victims of the home invasion identified him from a photo array as one of the gunmen. Mr. Rabner said he believes Mr. Hutchinson's photo was 3 or 4 years old and may not resemble him now.
Lt. Andrew Schurman, who is overseeing the investigation, said he could comment on neither the case nor Mr. Rabner's claims.
In arguing for lower bond, Mr. Rabner told the judge Mr. Hutchinson is not a flight risk because he has family ties to the community, including a fiancee and a 22-month-old child.
Although Mr. Rabner said his client's background shows he "never had any violent propensity his entire life," Assistant District Attorney R. Bruce Linsenmayer said he had a juvenile conviction for marijuana possession when he was 14 years old.
Also that year, Mr. Hutchinson and two other youths were charged with robbing a man of $30 and his gold necklace, Mr. Linsenmayer said, a case that was withdrawn.
Four years later, in April 2008, Mr. Hutchinson was charged with assault, reckless endangerment, terroristic threats, harassment and firearms violations after McKeesport police said he got into a fight with a man and pulled a gun on him, telling him "that he was a dead man," according to a criminal complaint.
Two other teens also were charged in that case, which the district attorney's office declined to prosecute after the victims and officers twice failed to show up for hearings, court records show.
"This defendant is a danger to the community," Mr. Linsenmayer said.
Officer Kuzak, meanwhile, remains hospitalized at UPMC Mercy, where staff would not comment on his condition.
Clairton police Chief Robert Hoffman said Officer Kuzak's condition has remained "the same" since Tuesday, when police expressed concerns about possible paralysis from the bullet, which entered his left shoulder area, just above his bulletproof vest. Two other bullets are still lodged in his body, and he will likely need more surgeries, said a spokeswoman for the Central Blood Bank, which is holding two blood drives for the officer.
The blood bank said he lost half of his blood and needed many transfusions and will likely need more.
Still, Father Mastrangelo said Officer Kuzak was "upbeat" when he visited Thursday afternoon, even making jokes. He told Father Mastrangelo how grateful he was for those supporting him.
"He gave me a thumbs up," he said.
Chief Hoffman praised Officer Kuzak's work. He had been on the force in Clairton for just two weeks and had apprehended a fugitive in his first call.
"Everybody who has worked with Jimmy says they always feel safe," Chief Hoffman said at the vigil, his voice cracking with emotion. "He always has their back."
But the shooting weighed heavily on the minds of many police officers who attended the vigil.
"Makes you think," said Chief Richard Horner of the North Franklin Township police, who knew Officer Kuzak. "An officer as well trained as Jimmy, if it could happen to him, it could happen to anybody."
The blood drives will be from noon to 7 p.m. on Monday at the Peters Township Fire Department, 245 E. McMurray Road, and from noon to 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Clairton Fire Department, 551 Ravensburg Blvd.
Those interested in donating on Monday should call Noel McMullen at 724-941-4176; those who wish to donate on Tuesday should call Becky Eichler at 412-233-8123.