Marijuana robbery turns deadly in Port Vue
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Those who live near John Zyskowski saw him as a kindly neighbor who grew handsome tomato plants and kept to himself.
Police said two men from McKeesport saw him as something else.
Their attempts to stage a robbery at his home in the 700 block of Liberty Way in Port Vue late Thursday ended in a shootout that left one of them dead -- and exposed what police described as a marijuana growing operation in Mr. Zyskowski's basement.
Allegheny County police said George Langley, 18, and TaRon Patterson, 24, armed with a gun, barged into his well-kept home about 11:30 p.m. A struggle with Mr. Zyskowski, 62, ensued in a hallway, and he brandished his own handgun, one of several weapons he kept in the house. Mr. Zyskowski fired at least once, killing Mr. Langley and striking Mr. Patterson in the arm. Mr. Patterson shot back as he tried to flee, grazing Mr. Zyskowski in the head, police wrote in criminal complaints charging Mr. Patterson with crimes including attempted homicide, aggravated assault, burglary, robbery and conspiracy.
The men fled in a vehicle that was waiting for them on Glenn Street, at the end of the block. The woman behind the wheel, identified in the criminal complaint as Melissa Runion, took them first to her house in Port Vue and then to UPMC McKeesport, where Mr. Langley was pronounced dead. Police on Friday were trying to determine whether Ms. Runion should face criminal charges.
Mr. Zyskowski was charged with drug possession with intent to deliver and other offenses stemming from the discovery of 29 marijuana plants, two bags and eight jars of the drug, a bag of leaves, and other items police say were used to cultivate and grow the plants. Police also pulled from his house five handguns and eight shotguns and rifles, weapons authorities said he legally possessed.
"If he had that much of the drug, that was not for personal use," Port Vue police Lt. David Petruski said.
The Allegheny County district attorney's office will determine whether the shooting was a case of justifiable homicide.
The news surprised many of those who live on Liberty Way.
"If it's true, I don't want him back on the street," said Jean Delsignore, 51, a longtime neighbor. She said she had seen a pair of young men milling about the street earlier in the night and later heard "what sounded like firecrackers, but it was actually gunshots."
Of Mr. Zyskowski, another neighbor, Margaret Hoffman, 46, added, "He's very helpful to everybody. He's very, very sweet." A few years ago, he allowed film crews into his home to shoot scenes for the science fiction movie "I am Number Four." The taping caused a minor sensation on the street. Still, no one Ms. Hoffman knew had pegged Mr. Zyskowski as a drug dealer.
Allegheny County court records show Mr. Zyskowski had no prior criminal record, and Port Vue police said he lived alone and they had never encountered him.
"It came as quite a shock to us when we found out he was involved," Lt. Petruski said. "We had no reason for us to be suspicious of his activities. ... As far as we knew, he was a common Port Vue resident who was living within the law."
But the alleged accomplices were familiar with him. Mr. Patterson told detectives he and Mr. Langley did not purchase from Mr. Zyskowski but knew about his stash from other people, said county police Lt. Andrew Schurman, who declined to comment further about Mr. Patterson's revelations to homicide detectives.
Allegheny County court records show Mr. Langley had been charged with only minor juvenile offenses in the past, crimes such as disorderly conduct and truancy from Baldwin High School.
Mr. Patterson remained hospitalized Friday night and was expected to be lodged in the Allegheny County Jail upon his release. Mr. Zyskowski was awaiting arraignment Friday night.
First Published August 4, 2012 12:00 am