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East Neighborhoods
3 sentenced in shooting of school aide

Tuesday, April 01, 2003

By Tom Gibb, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

INDIANA, Pa. -- Nobody seems to dispute that, when he got enough liquor in him, Samuel Erwin was a loose cannon.

But as Erwin and his schoolteacher wife were sent off to state prison yesterday, nobody closed the debate on whether it was Erwin or his wife calling the shots when he opened fire in an Indiana County school office last summer, wounding a secretary.

Yesterday, as the defendants poured out apologies to the victims, Indiana County President Judge William Martin sentenced Erwin, 40, to nine to 18 years in state prison, a stretch that could be followed by deportation to his native United Kingdom.

Wife Nancy Erwin, 49, who spent the last 25 years in classrooms and the last nine months in the county jail, was sent to state prison for 2 1/4 to 4 1/2 years. And area resident 19-year-old Michael Fox -- once a student in Nancy Erwin's school district, most recently one of her fellow inmates at the county jail -- was sentenced to one to two years in the county lockup for serving as Samuel Erwin's getaway driver.

"My wife, Nancy, was guilty only by association," Samuel Erwin said as he stood before Martin, awaiting sentencing for attempted homicide and aggravated assault. "She had no idea of my intention on June 21, 2002."

"I think it was her idea," Patrick Dougherty, assistant district attorney, said outside the courtroom.

Even if they can't agree on who gave the orders, all sides concur that a grudge was born when, for reasons school administrators won't discuss, veteran middle school teacher Nancy Erwin lost her job in the Marion Center Area School District two years ago.

By last summer -- two years after they had met over the Internet and married -- the Erwins were living outside Morgantown, W.Va., and Nancy Erwin just had finished her first year as a well-received teacher in the Monongalia County schools.

But on June 21, packing a pistol he got that morning at a Morgantown-area pawn shop -- a gun paid for, in part, when Nancy Erwin hocked her clarinet -- Samuel Erwin set out for Marion Center, with Fox at the wheel.

He was hunting school Superintendent David Pastrick and middle school Principal Elaine Settlemair. And as they rode, he was drinking and belligerent, once firing a shot through the floorboards.

"The fact that our son was drunk that day and out of his mind is no excuse for what he did," Samuel Erwin's parents wrote the judge from their home in Northern Ireland, detailing their son's drinking problems. "Sam is not a bad man. He is just very sick at present."

At the school office, Samuel Erwin demanded to see Pastrick and Settlemair. Told they weren't there, he opened fire anyway, hitting secretary Marcia Conner in the leg as others fled.

"I looked him in the eyes and pleaded, 'Don't shoot me. Please don't shoot me,'" Conner, 49, told the courtroom yesterday. "What did they think this was going to accomplish? Did they think it would get her job back if Dr. Pastrick was dead?"

Tom Gibb can be reached at tgibb@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1601.

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