Gunfire erupts during Pa. drug buy; suspect held

By Paul Peirce
Tribine Review

An undercover drug buy gone awry Wednesday afternoon resulted in gunfire in Hempfield Township, directly across Route 30 from Westmoreland Mall.

The shooting and a subsequent high-speed chase led to the arrest of James Paul Henderson, 37, of Greensburg RD3, who was identified by the office of New Kensington District Judge Frank Pallone.

Henderson was apprehended by state police three miles from the shooting in the village of Bovard only a few minutes after the 1 p.m. incident. No one was injured.

"There was a pre-planned drug-buy operation by our undercover officers and the actor suddenly decided not to cooperate," state police spokeswoman Jeanne Martin said.

"We don't know what happened ... maybe he began believing he was dealing with police officers," she said.

The transaction was to take place in a parking lot directly off Donohoe Road Extension near the McDonald's and Automatic Car Wash just across Route 30 from the mall, police said.

"The suspect started to back his car up, striking one of our unmarked cars. As he began pulling away in the parking lot from the undercover officers, another car with two uniformed troopers approached and he waved a firearm out of his window at them like he was going to shoot," Martin said.

Martin said the two troopers in the car, believing Henderson was going to open fire, ducked down in their car, and because of the commotion did not know whether he fired.

However, Martin said the undercover officers nearby believed they heard a shot. Police then fired, she said.

It was not certain how many shots were fired.

Henderson then drove east along Donohoe Road and Crows Nest Road toward Bovard Road.

About a dozen more officers were summoned to the pursuit as well as a state police helicopter.

"Once he got to Bovard, he abandoned his vehicle and ran into a house (on Prisani Street, formerly Third Street). The woman who resides in the house didn't believe she knew the man and said she chased him out of her home," Martin said.

Henderson, who police dispatchers said walked nonchalantly out of the house on the 200 block of Prisani Street, was apprehended by police a short time later.

Police obtained a search warrant and were still looking for Henderson's handgun last night around the vicinity of the house and in the car. They also called in a police search dog from Jeannette.

Police also were looking for items Henderson reportedly dropped while fleeing.

Ryan Walters, of Third Street, Bovard, said he was just driving away from his home when he saw the car chase approaching.

"They were going like 90 miles an hour around the bend. I turned around and came back home because I live right here and wondered what was happening," he said.

Walters said he didn't see police capture Henderson.

Police cordoned off the area surrounding the 200 block of Prisani Street and a nearby alley, where Henderson's car was being searched.

Henderson's late-model, red Mercury sedan, which was towed from Bovard, had a visible bullet hole and scrapes in the driver's side door. The side mirror also was missing.

Martin said Henderson is believed to have been the only suspect involved in the drug deal with the undercover officers.

Henderson was arraigned in night court before Pallone via Web camera from the state police barracks in Greensburg. He is charged with simple assault, aggravated assault, criminal attempt to commit criminal homicide, and recklessly endangering another person, the court official said.

Henderson was transported last night to Westmoreland County Jail, where he remains in lieu of $250,000 straight cash bond. 

Copyright 2006 Tribune Review Publishing Company

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