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SUV rampage poses big question: Why?

Car rammed, motorcyclists run off the road and a man beaten

Thursday, July 17, 2003

By Michael A. Fuoco, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Gary Hudson's mind was racing as fast as his feet early yesterday morning.

Why had a green Ford Excursion cut him off on Forbes Avenue, Uptown? Why did it chase him onto a dead-end street? Why was it repeatedly crashing into his abandoned car as he ran for his life?

Hudson, 27, of Highland Park, a General Educational Development program and robotics teacher at the Hill House, eventually escaped and soon learned that the violent and bizarre incident, while apparently random, wasn't an isolated event.

Police told him they caught two Spring Garden men in the attack on him but not before five motorcyclists told officers the same suspects tried to run them off the road in the Strip District. And not before one of the same suspects beat a man unconscious outside a Troy Hill bar.

The question remained yesterday -- why?

Lt. Mark Romutis, acting commander of the Hill District station which covers the Uptown and Strip neighborhoods where two of the incidents occurred, and Cmdr. Edward Kelly of the North Side station were at a loss to explain the violence.

"What was this all about? I don't have a clue," Romutis said. "It seems entirely random, which is a little spooky."

Charged were Herman Girvin, 28, of Gebhart Street, and James Davies, 25, of High Street. Girvin was charged with six counts of aggravated assault, including the beating outside the Bullpen Bar, and Davies was charged with two counts of aggravated assault. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for July 25.

The incident began in the rain about 1:25 a.m. as Hudson was driving a 17-year-old he mentors to the boy's Uptown home. The sport utility vehicle passed him on Forbes Avenue, then swerved sharply and turned at an angle, cutting him off.

Suspecting trouble, Hudson threw his 1990 Ford Taurus into reverse and backed down Forbes to the first cross street, made a left and drove to Fifth Avenue, which he turned onto. The other vehicle followed.

"He's behind us!" his teenage passenger screamed. "He's coming and coming fast!"

Hudson turned onto Congress Street.

"Unfortunately, it was a dead end," Hudson said.

He drove as far as he could, pulled into a parking lot and he and the teen bailed out and ran in opposite directions on Colwell Street.

"I heard repeated banging," Hudson recalled. "I thought, 'Oh, no, they're smashing my car.' "

That's exactly what was happening, said nearby resident Greg Baltus, who was startled by loud banging noises and looked out his window.

"I saw a large Ford vehicle repeatedly ramming a smaller car. He hit it four, five, six times. He'd smash it, back up and smash it again into the guardrail," Baltus said. "There was a serious amount of damage. It was obvious he wanted to completely mess it up."

On the run, Hudson wasn't worried about his vehicle.

"I was trying to save my life," he said. "I was just running, focusing on trying to get away ... I didn't know if they had guns. I didn't know what the motive was. I didn't cut anybody off.

"I thought it might be a case of mistaken identity. I didn't know who they were."

Hudson then pulled out his cell phone and called 911.

"Somebody's trying to kill me and I don't know why!" Hudson said in his frantic call for help.

He was able to reach his young passenger's house, and police arrived within minutes. The teen was found safe at a parking lot.

Back at the crime scene, he saw the result of the violence.

"The trunk was in the back seat," he said of his car.

The chaos continued. At about 1:45 a.m., 20 minutes after the Hudson incident began, a green Ford Excursion drove up behind five motorcyclists so fast that they were forced to pull off Smallman Street near 15th Street in the Strip. Then, thinking the road was safe, the bikers got back onto Smallman only to encounter the Excursion again, now in the wrong lane, headed directly at them.

To avoid head-on collisions, the motorcyclists veered into a parking lot between 15th and 16th but the sport utility vehicle chased them through the lot and onto Penn Avenue. The bikers split up with one of them getting behind the Excursion. He got a partial license plate number while noticing the license was a D.A.R.E. -- Drug Awareness Resistance Education -- plate.

"That was a real break in the case," Romutis said.

At one point, the Excursion stopped, and one of the men opened a door and yelled something at the bikers before speeding away.

An all-points bulletin was broadcast, asking officers to be on the lookout for a green Ford Excursion with a D.A.R.E. license plate and listing the partial plate number.

An officer who was assisting a disabled motorist on Route 28 at the 31st Street Bridge spotted the vehicle drive past and onto Rialto Street. He radioed in and gave pursuit, but he and other officers couldn't immediately find it, Kelly said. At about 2:30 a.m., the same officer heard a broadcast that the vehicle had been located in the lot at North Catholic High School at 1400 Troy Hill Road and the suspects were in custody.

The officer headed toward the scene but about a block away, outside the Bullpen Bar, he spotted a man lying face down in the middle of Troy Hill Road, bleeding and unconscious. The victim, Steve Jackson, 40, of Brabec Street, North Side, had a large bruise on the left side of his face near his eye. He was taken to Allegheny General Hospital for treatment.

Witnesses said the two men had come in the bar and started fights before being thrown out.

"The victim of the assault thought it was clear to leave the bar and that they were gone, but when he went outside he was punched and elbowed in the head and knocked unconscious," Kelly said.

The witnesses at the bar identified Girvin as Jackson's attacker.

The motorcyclists were brought to the scene and identified the two as the men who had chased them. Additionally, Kelly said, the vehicle had cracked lights, dents and paint scrapings believed to be from Hudson's car.


Michael A. Fuoco can be reached at mfuoco@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1968.

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