Seven charged after tracing of pistol that killed officer
This undated handout photo shows Lower Burrell police Officer Derek Kotecki, who was killed last year outside the Dairy Queen along Greensburg Road.
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Detectives following the trail of the gun used to kill Lower Burrell police Officer Derek Kotecki nearly six months ago have charged seven people with an array of crimes stemming from the case.
Officer Kotecki, 40, was fatally shot Oct. 12 by Charles Post, 33, described by police as a suicidal fugitive with a heroin habit who had threatened to harm officers just days earlier. Police sought Mr. Post on attempted homicide charges after a shooting 10 days before, and Officer Kotecki was preparing to capture him outside the Dairy Queen on Greensburg Road when Mr. Post shot him in the head with a .40-caliber Smith & Wesson pistol that detectives said had been illegally possessed by at least four men before him. Police officers shot and killed Mr. Post.
Among those charged in Westmoreland County on Friday was Mr. Post's brother, Chad A. Post., 35, who detectives said knew his younger brother was on the run when he picked him up from the woods and took him to Aspinwall on Oct. 2, the same day police said Charles Post fired shots at his boss outside a New Kensington hotel.
While on the lam, police said Charles Post threatened to kill officers and warned them that he was not going to jail. Authorities said he was assisted in his efforts to elude them by two women, Amanda Christyn Walters, 23, and her aunt, Nicole Martha Walters, 37, both of Lower Burrell. They told detectives they knew Mr. Post was a wanted man when they gave him food, money and a pre-paid cell phone while visiting him at a home in Plum, detectives wrote in criminal complaints that provide the first public glimpses into the events leading up to Officer Kotecki's killing.
The older Mr. Post and the Walterses were charged with hindering apprehension and conspiracy.
Also charged with felony crimes were four men who were "among a chain" of people to illegally possess and trade the murder weapon.
Charged with an array of gun crimes are Robert George Zentner, 56, and James Ameris III, 52, both of Lower Burrell, and Meryl Edwin Smith, 33, of Arnold, and Nevin Allen Lawson, 41, of Allegheny Township.
"Each one was part of the chain that eventually resulted in the death of Officer Kotecki," Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck said. "There was not any reluctance on the part of these people to transfer firearms to other people who were prohibited from possessing them. In this case Charles Post ended up with the firearm and killed a police officer in cold blood."
Within a day of the shooting, detectives from Mr. Peck's office along with Agent Jeff Haggerty of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and Allegheny County sheriff's Deputy Bart Hennessy began following the gun's path.
They traced the gun to Mr. Zentner, who was listed as its last owner as of March 2007. Mr. Zentner told investigators that his nephew, Mr. Smith, won the weapon at a gun bash held by the Richland Sportsman's Association but did not have necessary paperwork with him to take it, criminal complaints say. Mr. Zentner instead completed the paperwork for his nephew, illegally listing himself as the gun's actual buyer.
Mr. Smith said he kept the gun for two years at his home until his ex-girlfriend fired it during a domestic dispute in 2009. He said he shoved the gun in his waistband and took it to a local bar, The Reservoir, where he gave it to Mr. Lawson.
Mr. Lawson told Mr. Smith he threw the gun into a river but later told investigators he kept it at his house for two to four months before Mr. Ameris came to visit.
Together, they snorted cocaine in a workshop, where Mr. Ameris noticed the pistol and took it for himself, the complaints say.
Criminal complaints do not spell out exactly how it ended up in Mr. Post's hands, but it likely occurred after Sept. 26, when Becky Sue Beestrice said she and Mr. Post picked up another man, Jay White, from his home. Mr. White put a bookbag in the trunk of her car containing two guns, which Mr. Post discovered when he drove Ms. Beestrice's car the next day.
Mr. Post later told Amanda Walters the gun he used in the Oct. 2 shooting was Mr. White's and he had retrieved it from Ms. Beestrice's trunk, the complaints say. Ms. Beestrice and Mr. White were not charged as of Friday.
Mr. Peck said the case shows the far-reaching impact of individual decisions.
If not for their crimes, he said, "Officer Kotecki's death may have been prevented."
First Published March 24, 2012 12:00 am