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Monessen police investigating drive-by shooting

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Jim Ference / Trib Total Media
Monessen police are investigating a drive-by shooting about 2:20 p.m. Tuesday, March 31, 2015, on Somerset Street, which struck the three houses shown at left. Rostraver police Lt. John Christner (kneeling) is shown circling a bullet casing from the shooting, while Charleroi Regional Police Officer John Mitaly looks on. Police from Donora, North Belle Vernon and Rostraver are shown in the background.
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Jim Ference / Trib Total Media
Police from Monessen, Donora, Charleroi Regional, Rostraver and North Belle Vernon were called to the scene of a drive-by shooting on Somerset Street in Monessen on Tuesday, March 31, 2015.
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Jim Ference / Trib Total Media
Police from Monessen, Donora, Charleroi Regional, Rostraver, North Belle Vernon and the state police search a vacant house on on McMahon Avenue in Monessen for a suspect that fled from from city police during a traffic stop Tuesday, March 31, 2015.

On a chaotic Tuesday afternoon in Monessen, police dealt with a drive-by shooting, a racially charged neighborhood dispute and the assault of an officer.

The turmoil erupted around 1:40 p.m. when a city police officer was assaulted during a traffic stop on the 600 block of Locust Avenue. The suspect ran away, prompting police to call neighboring departments for backup.

Moments later, city police were called to simultaneous incidents on Reed Avenue for the neighbor dispute and to Somerset Street for the drive-by shooting. In the assault incident, Monessen police stopped a vehicle driven by former city resident Keithon Majors, 28, of McCandless Street, Pittsburgh. During a pat-down search, police allegedly found a brick of suspected heroin and a large wad of cash in Majors’ possession.

As police were preparing to handcuff Majors, the suspect allegedly struck an officer in the nose and took off. Charleroi Regional, Donora, North Belle Vernon, Rostraver and state police helped search for Majors, who was last seen going into a vacant house on McMahon Avenue.

Majors was still loose late Tuesday.

Monessen police Lt. Brian Vitale said a warrant was issued for Majors, who was charged with aggravated assault of a police officer, simple assault and fleeing/eluding police.

Vitale said that as police searched for Majors, he was called to Reed Avenue to quell a dispute between two neighbors.

Vitale said about 30 people had gathered on the street after one neighbor allegedly referred to another using a racial slur.

No one was charged, and the crowd dispersed about 15 minutes later, Vitale said.

Vitale said that while dealing with the neighbor dispute, police were called to Somerset Street about 1:50 p.m. for the drive-by shooting.

Police Chief John Mandarino said the suspects, believed to be white or light-skinned black men in a black or dark blue sport utility vehicle, were traveling down Somerset Street at the time.

As the SUV was stopped at the bottom of the hill at the stop sign, one of the men began shooting out the window of the vehicle, he said.

Vitale said the shooter was targeting the house at 808 Somerset St. A witness told police the passenger in the SUV was a light-skinned man with a lanky build.

One of the bullets struck a brick pillar at 808 Somerset St. Another slug hit the house next door at 812 Somerset – just inches from a room where children were asleep, Vitale said.

No injuries were reported, but the broad-daylight shooting left neighbors rattled and fearful.

Neighbor Ronald Smith said he was getting ready for his job as a Monessen Elementary Center school guard when he heard gunfire.

“I was walking toward the door when I heard three gunshots,” Smith said. “I didn’t know what was going on.”

Other neighbors who gathered in front of their houses did not want to be identified, fearing retaliation.

“I’ve lived here 45 years. It’s a shame what it’s become,” said a retiree who declined to give his name.

Vitale said police found three 9 mm bullet casings on the street near the shooting scene. Police used yellow tape to block the area as they processed the scene for evidence.

The suspects were last seen on Second Street. Vitale said witnesses told them the suspect’s vehicle, possibly a Ford Explorer or Expedition or a GMC Envoy, has been seen before in their neighborhood.

City police were still looking for the suspects late Tuesday.

Stacy Wolford is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-684-2640 or at [email protected].

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