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Robbery witnesses give hot pursuit in Tarentum

| Friday, Oct. 25, 2013, 1:51 a.m.
Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch
The Marathon gas station in Tarentum was robbed on Thursday, Oct. 24, 2013.
Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch
Police gather at the 200 block of West Ninth Avenue in Tarentum regarding a robbery at the Marathon gas station in Tarentum on Thursday, Oct. 24, 2013. Bystanders at the gas station followed the suspect into West Tarentum were police were searching for the man late Thursday.

Tarentum police were questioning a man early Friday who they believe robbed a gas station at gunpoint before he was chased by good Samaritans into West Tarentum.

Police said they found the suspect in a house in the 200 block of West Ninth Avenue near the former site of Holy Martyrs church; his getaway car was found nearby.

“We're still putting everything together with the witnesses,” Sgt. Ryan Hanford said.

The suspect's identity was not yet available early Friday.

Hanford said no one was injured in the robbery or the pursuit.

Serena Buday of Tarentum said she watched the tall, thin, white man pace in the parking lot of the Marathon gas station near the Tarentum Bridge for about 10 minutes. She said he seemed anxious and kept fiddling with a bandana pulled over his chin.

Buday thought he looked suspicious with his bandana, hooded sweatshirts and gloves.

When he finally entered the store shortly after 9 p.m., Buday said she rolled her car forward in time to see him pull a gun from under his hooded sweatshirts and threaten the gas station manager, who was manning the counter.

When the apparent robber left the store with an undisclosed amount of money, Buday said her friends — including a second gas station employee who had been outside smoking during the robbery — yelled at the man as he ran toward East Seventh Avenue and Wood Street.

As Buday was calling 911, she said she tried to follow the suspect, hoping to knock him off his feet with her car.

“It was instinct,” Buday said when asked why she took the risk of following an armed man. “But I lost him.”

Meanwhile, Thomas Gabb of Cheswick said he was sitting at a traffic light on Ross Street when he saw the commotion outside the station and joined the chase, inadvertently cutting off Buday's car.

Gabb saw the suspect get into a green Saturn car and drive down East Ninth Avenue past Grandview Upper Elementary School toward Ross Street.

Gabb followed the car down Ross Street and right onto Seventh Avenue near Nick Chevrolet, where Gabb said the suspect nearly hit the wall at the base of the hill.

Gabb said he saw the Saturn turn right uphill into West Tarentum before he lost sight of it.

He briefly returned to the gas station, then cruised through West Tarentum in time to see a Harrison police officer investigating an empty car in a West Ninth Avenue parking lot beside the former church. Gabb was able to identify the green Saturn as the one he'd chased.

“I got lucky,” Gabb said.

Buday arrived on scene and identified the car.

Bystanders believed the suspect entered a house beside the church and ran out a back door onto an alley called Walters Way.

For more than an hour, Tarentum, Harrison and Brackenridge police searched the house, the vacant church and the surrounding area.

It was not clear whether the suspect was inside that house the entire time, later returned or was found in a different house.

As the car, which had a long scuff mark along the passenger side, was towed from the scene, a man came out of the house and questioned why police were taking the Saturn.

“It was involved in a crime,” was the answer from police, who indicated they planned to get a search warrant and go through the car.

Gabb confirmed two blue sweatshirts police found were worn by the alleged robber; police said a bandana was found in the car. It was not known if police recovered a gun or cash.

Josh Wentzel said he's seen the suspect in the neighborhood before, though he didn't know his name.

Wentzel said he is the son of the gas station's manager and was on his way to the store with the woman's 2-year-old son when he came upon the aftermath of the robbery.

“I saw (the alleged robber's car) come flying down the hill,” Wentzel said.

He said his mother has only worked at the store for a few months and had never been robbed before.

Liz Hayes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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