Two dead, six injured in Pa. police pursuit

Copyright 2006 P.G. Publishing Co. 

Two people were killed and six others were injured, including three children, last evening in a crash involving three vehicles in Homewood that occurred during a police pursuit.

The accident happened shortly after 6 p.m. at North Lang Avenue and Bennett Street.

Police Chief Dominic J. Costa, who went to the scene along with Mayor Bob O'Connor, confirmed that the accident occurred just after an unmarked car had tried to pull over the driver of a pickup truck on Dallas Avenue.

The driver started to pull over, but then suddenly sped away, turning first onto Kelly Street, and then turning left onto North Lang. The officers in the unmarked car activated their lights and siren and began pursuing the pickup truck, but Chief Costa did not characterize it as a chase.

"Were they going to pursue him? Yes," Chief Costa said. "This is a so-called pursuit by definition. It was a pursuit, but it was only two blocks."

The accident occurred a few moments later, just two blocks away, when the Chevrolet Colorado pickup truck collided with a car at North Lang Avenue. Chief Costa said the driver of a pickup truck went through a red light at the intersection.

Witnesses said the pickup truck was speeding north on Lang when it struck a Ford Escort on the passenger side at the intersection. A van that was going in the opposite direction on Bennett tried to swerve out of the way but the Escort struck the van.

The pickup truck ended up with its front end on top of the Escort. A man and a woman who were inside the Escort died at the scene.

Witnesses said that several children in the van were among the injured who were rushed to hospitals. Chief Costa said three of the injured were taken to Children's Hospital and three others were taken to UPMC Presbyterian.

One witness, Lori Criswell, who said she works in a center in the area, said the scene was chaotic. "You could hear the children screaming in the van," she said.

The driver of the pickup truck was identified as Devon Miles, 20, of Homewood. They recovered a .38-caliber revolver, some crack cocaine and some marijuana from the pickup truck, Chief Costa said.

Mr. Miles faces numerous charges, including fleeing and eluding police, violations of the Uniform Firearms Act, two narcotics violations and driving without a license. Additional charges were pending.

The accident victims were not identified. Commander Thomas Stangrecki said the children, two boys and a girl, were aged from 9 to 14. He said the worst injury among the victims appeared to be a broken leg.

Leah Berry, 15, a student at Peabody High School, said she was walking down Lang Avenue to the East Busway when she heard a loud boom.

"It was terrible," she said. "It looked like they were going 100 mph."

Residents said children were playing in and around the street at the time of the chase. The YMCA's Homewood branch is about a block away from the accident scene.

Another witness, J'Marla Bronaugh, who said she lives less than a block away from the accident scene, said, "You didn't hear any sirens, but you saw the lights. The siren didn't come on until after the accident."

Chief Costa said that detectives briefly activated the siren when they activated the car's lights.

Several residents complained about the dangerous nature of police chases, a frequent occurrence in the neighborhood.

"Whatever they were chasing them for, it doesn't make any sense. That is someone's mother, someone's child (who died)," Gerlynn Williams, who was visiting relatives in Homewood. "The police are always justified for what they do. It doesn't matter."

Chief Costa said he understands the concerns. "It's unfortunate but we have a job to do, and an obligation to protect the public," he said. 
Moustafa Ayad can be reached at mayad@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1731.

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