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Pittsburgh homicides: A year of death in the city

Friday, August 03, 2001

By M. Ferguson Tinsley, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

The deaths of three men yesterday -- two in a Garfield drive-by and one from a Hazelwood shooting in June -- brought the number of people murdered in Pittsburgh so far this year to 42. Just seven months into 2001, the total nearly equals the 43 killings registered in the city all of last year.

Cmdr. Maurita Bryant investigates the June 11 bludgeoning deaths of Catherine and Sean Hairston in Garfield. (Darrell Sapp, Post-Gazette)

If the pace continues, Pittsburgh would see its highest homicide total since 83 were killed at the height of the gang wars in 1993.

Police can explain many of the deaths, citing factors that have been present in the city for years.

Drugs play a large role. Weapons on the street continue to get more powerful. Witnesses remain reluctant to come forward.

But it's more difficult for police to pick out any one or two new reasons why the murder rate in 2001 has so dramatically increased over 2000.

Instead, several factors, some of them unique to certain neighborhoods, seem to have come together.

Old feuds have reached the boiling point on the North Side. Drug debts and robberies appear to be the catalyst in Beltzhoover. The same is true in Homewood, where there is the added factor of some gangsters getting out of prison.

And across the city there is a greater willingness among people to use aggression to solve problems, said Maurita Bryant, commander of the police major crimes unit.

"If they had hit their targets in vital places we'd have had more homicides," Bryant said of this year's shootings. "The only difference between an aggravated assault and a homicide is aim."

The aim seems to be getting better. In yesterday's drive-by at Penn and Atlantic avenues, three of the four people in a car were hit and two of them died. In a drive-by on the North Side this summer, someone opened up with an AK-47, again killing two and injuring a third person.

The other pervasive theme that emerged during the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's review of 2001's homicide cases is disrespect -- someone getting even because he believes someone has dissed him.

"The violence . . . is not caused by one drug enterprise trying to take another's turf," Assistant Police Chief William Mullen said about this year's rash of shootings on the North Side. "It's revenge. It's retaliation. It's about things that have happened in the past. It's about disrespect."

The spark can be as small as a fender bender.

Pittsburgh homicides

Three more added to toll

For some, grief came knocking again

The city's 2001 victims, so far

2001 homicides vs. 2000 homicides

Homicides over last 10 years


Around 10 p.m. May 9, William "Ricky" Ricardo Ghafoor, 48, was pulling his jitney out of a parking lot near Elmore Square in the Hill District as Rashad Hefflin, 21, was pulling in. Their cars bumped. The men, strangers until that moment, jumped out of their cars and glared.

The older man brushed Hefflin off and got back in his car. Police said others watching from a nearby stoop egged on Hefflin, saying things like, "Aw, man. "You gon' let him diss you like that?"

Hefflin left briefly and returned with a gun. Police say he walked over to Ghafoor and fired a bullet into his chest. Ghafoor, a father and husband, died at 10:28 p.m.

In another place or another time, the problem would have been handled with a call to police. No longer.

"They don't want to tell [police what happened] because they want to handle it themselves," Bryant said. "If they live through a shooting or are busted and in jail or just down for a while, they still say they're going to handle it themselves. You're a snitch if you go to the police. You get more respect in the neighborhood if you handle it yourself."

Despite that, police have been able to make arrests, obtain warrants or otherwise clear 26 of the cases.

Because all these factors tend to be so personal and spontaneous, it is difficult to predict whether murders will continue at the same rate for the rest of the year. But it is clear that they continue to hit black males particularly hard -- 31 of the city's 42 victims, most of them under age 30.

Old disputes

While the Hill District slayings have generally been unconnected personal grudges, a different dynamic is operating on the North Side, scene of five murders this year.

Old feuds centering on drugs and territory still boil up between Manchester/California-Kirkbride and areas around the Mexican War Streets, said Mullen.

The most recent skirmish ended in the deaths of Mark Hunter, 24, and Carl Burley, 20. Police say they comprised part of the Manchester faction that includes Edward Howard, 23, of Suismon Street.

Howard was hit in the arm in the June drive-by that killed Hunter and Burley. At the time, he was still healing from a January shooting at a North Side car wash that sent him to Allegheny General Hospital in critical condition.

Investigators say that on June 27 a sport utility vehicle approached a Ford Taurus Howard was riding in with Burley, Hunter and another man, Allen Moore, along California Avenue. Shots from the AK-47 assault rifle blasted from the back window, killing Hunter and Burley.

Moore fled the scene. He was arrested with the help of Pittsburgh police two weeks ago and is awaiting extradition to Atlanta on a homicide charge, homicide Lt. Thomas Stangrecki said.

The third victim of the feud this year was Jarreau "Bush Whack" Lane, 23, of Northview Heights, who was part of the Mexican War Streets "crew," the name police use to categorize loosely aligned groups that center on neighborhoods but fall short of gang organization.

Lane was shot as he walked on a North Side street Jan. 5, and police believe his killing was retaliation for the Jan. 2 car wash shooting. When he was shot, Lane was using a walker because he was recovering from a shooting on Sept. 22. At the time, he refused to tell police the name of his attacker.

Two men, Aki Bivens and Dion Lamar "Trig" Williams, who police believe are cohorts of Lane, were arrested in connection with the Howard shooting in January. They were both freed on bond. But both skipped out on hearings and now the police are searching for them, Stangrecki said.

Back on the streets

Individual gang members who got out of jail and returned to their old haunts have been the catalyst for some of the seven murders registered this year in the adjacent eastern neighborhoods of Lincoln-Lemington and Homewood.

Police believe most of the organized gangs that were active in the early 1990s such as the Manchester OGs, the Beltzhoover Crips and the LAW (Larimer Avenue-Wilkinsburg) are gone, along with their red and blue and black bandannas. The ex-gangsters coming back into the neighborhoods are not trying to start another gang, police say.

But they are starting trouble.

Eric Lineburg, 25, of Olivant Street, was known in Lincoln-Lemington for his gangster ways. He lived by the gun and died by it on July 6 at Paulson Field.

In 1994, when he was just 18, Lineburg was implicated in the murder of Ahmad Witherspoon, 23, of Larimer. Witherspoon, who police say belonged to the LAW gang, was found dead on Lowell Street in East Liberty with 27 gunshot wounds. At the time, LAW was feuding with the Lincoln-Lemington Crips.

Lineburg went free after a frightened witness refused to testify.

Although his rap sheet doesn't reflect a long history of drug convictions, he spent time and did crime with others whose records do. In 1996, Lineburg held a gun on a man while convicted drug-dealer Climarr Clark, 25, who had addresses in Manchester and Lincoln-Lemington, robbed him. The man ended up with a leg wound.

Lineburg got three to six years in the State Correctional Institution Pittsburgh on aggravated assault, reckless endangerment, robbery and conspiracy charges.

He was paroled in September, but he stopped reporting to his parole officer by Feb. 7.

Law enforcement officials said local ire was incited against Lineburg when he began trying to gather cash by robbing and kidnapping drug dealers.

On July 6, around 7:15 p.m., witnesses playing on the basketball court at Paulson Field in Larimer told police they saw Lineburg arguing with a man and then running away. That man, and then two others, opened fire.

Lineburg died in the adjacent baseball field.

Police say Lineburg was once a friend of Wallace Goldston, 26. They'd known each other since high school.

Goldston, whose only record in Allegheny County is an assault charge that was dropped and a drunken driving case that netted probation, was a starting quarterback at Westinghouse High School who turned down a scholarship to Slippery Rock University.

By the time Lineburg was shot, apparently the friendship had ended. Moments after he died, rumors flew around the neighborhood that Goldston had set him up.

Goldston went to Lineburg's home to assure the family that he had nothing to do with the death. About five hours later, he was shot to death in front of his mother, girlfriend and two young children.

Dangerous company

It can be dangerous to hang out with Michael Eugene Cheatom.

Cheatom, 21, of Rochelle Street in Knoxville, has been known to police at least since 1999, when violence rocked the Hilltop communities, including St. Clair Village and Beltzhoover.

When he was 19, police charged him with murder. When he was 21, he was hit with gun charges after a police chase. That same year he almost died when someone pumped 10 bullets into his car.

Now, he sits in the Allegheny County Jail on another gun charge stemming from his arrest outside a pub in St. Clair Village.

Police may have done him a favor because someone apparently was out to get him. Detective Michael Vieth of the South Side station said Cheatom's problems stem from an unpaid drug debt.

On Feb. 12 he sat in the passenger's seat of his own car while Jaime David Daniels, 21, drove it across the Smithfield Street Bridge. He and Daniels had just left an after-hours club. It was 3:30 a.m.

When they reached the Carson Street side of the bridge, someone pulled up behind and began shooting. Daniels took two bullets and died. Cheatom came out unscathed.

Police say Cheatom had a run-in with someone at the club. The two men were then followed and whoever was gunning for Cheatom got Daniels instead. No arrests have yet come from the police investigation.

Cheatom was accused in the murder of Keith Jordan, a 23-year-old St. Clair Village man, in 1999. However, the charges were dropped when the prosecution's main witness failed to testify.

Police believe the Hilltop violence that broke out in 1999 has never completely subsided, and other names that cropped up then continue to appear on the police blotter. For instance, Charles Daniels of the Hill District was arrested in March 2000 in a shooting in Beltzhoover.

This past June, Daniels was back in Beltzhoover. This time, he was shot dead by a ski-masked gunman who fired seven times into a car in McKinley Park.

Cheatom, meanwhile, is a survivor.

His car was blown up in March 2000. He wasn't injured.

He was shot up on the way home from a Kennywood picnic in May 2000. He nearly died.

Furthermore, it was clear that anyone keeping company with him was in harm's way.

Jaime Daniels' great aunt Sharlee Ellison said she tried to convince her nephew to abandon the friendship. But, Daniels and Cheatom had been good friends since they were youngsters.

"We all have good friends who as they grow older have scrapes with the law, but you don't turn your back on them," she said. "Jaime didn't turn his back on Michael. That's the kind of person he was."

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