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2 arrested in New Kensington, Tarentum gas station robberies

| Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013, 1:21 a.m.
Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch
With his handgun laying on the counter, surveillance video shows a masked robber gathering money during a robbery of the Marathon gas station in Tarentum on Thursday, Oct. 24, 2013.

Surveillance cameras, police work and, in one case, dogged pursuit of the suspect by passersby led to arrests of two men on Friday in unrelated gas station robberies in Tarentum and New Kensington this week.

The suspects:

• Justin Lamb, 27, of West Ninth Avenue is accused of robbing the Tarentum Marathon at 100 E. Seventh Ave. at about 9 p.m. Thursday, police said.

Police nabbed the suspect about two hours later.

Lamb was in the Allegheny County Jail on Friday in lieu of $100,000 cash bond, pending a preliminary hearing.

• New Kensington police arrested a homeless man on Friday who they say committed a strong-arm robbery of the BP gas station along Tarentum Bridge Road on Tuesday night.

Michael Allen Raiford, 26, was in the Westmoreland County jail in lieu of $50,000 bond pending a preliminary hearing.

Tarentum robbery

In Tarentum, police say Lamb was wearing a hoodie and covered his face with a black and white bandana when he approached a Marathon gas station clerk on Thursday night.

She asked him to remove the bandana because she couldn't understand what he was saying.

Instead, according to police, he pulled an “old-fashioned”-looking handgun and pointed it at the clerk, threatening, “Someone will get hurt. Give me the money.”

The robber demanded big bills and the clerk handed over about $160.

Police Chief Bill Vakulick said surveillance video shows the robber placing a silver, small-caliber revolver on the counter while waiting to be handed money.

The robber was seen by several passersby, who the chief credited with helping nab the suspect.

One witness saw the suspect bolt from the store and along East Seventh Avenue to Wood Street, where a green Saturn was parked.

Another said he was walking along West Seventh Avenue when he saw a man he knows as “Jason” drive past him in the Saturn. That witness saw the car headed onto East Street in West Tarentum, and the car's lights suddenly went out.

Still another witness followed the Saturn along numerous streets near the gas station, including going the wrong way on East Eighth Avenue before crossing Ross Street (Route 366) to Mill Street and eventually into West Tarentum.

By then, Tarentum, Harrison and Fawn officers spotted the car near a residence along the 200 block of West Ninth, where police say Lamb was staying.

Lamb ran into the house before police arrived, stayed a few moments, threw his roommate the keys, and ran back outside.Police didn't find Lamb at home but did find a black-and-white bandana hidden above ceiling tiles and a blue hoodie on the floor.

Police had the Saturn towed so they could get a search warrant to examine it.

The homeowner said he had a small revolver that he keeps under the mattress. When asked to get it, the man found the gun was missing and said he hadn't given anyone permission to take it.

Police left the house but continued to search the neighborhood.When they saw a man entering the house's back door, officers surrounded the house.

Vakulick said five Tarentum officers went inside and found Lamb hiding in a crawl space.

In addition to robbery, Lamb is charged with simple assault for allegedly menacing the clerk, theft of about $160, receiving stolen property, making terroristic threats, driving without a license, and driving in the wrong direction.

New Kensington

City police on Friday filed charges against Raiford, who police said had gotten away with about $30 on Tuesday night.

Police said the homeless man tried to use a credit card at an ATM inside the New Kensington BP along Tarentum Bridge Road at Leechburg Road, but the card was declined.

When Raiford handed a clerk a few dollars for a small purchase, she opened the cash register.According to police, Raiford “reaches across the counter with his left hand and grabs money from the drawer.”

The store video shows the clerk trying to stop him, according to police Lt. Jim Klein. Raiford calmly walked out the door and got into a dark, possibly maroon, SUV that pulled out onto Leechburg Road.

The Valley News Dispatch publicized the surveillance photo in Friday's newspaper, on its website and on Facebook.

Another New Kensington officer told Klein that the robber looked like Raiford.Then at about 10:30 a.m. Friday, Arnold police Officer Eric Doutt saw man fitting the robber's description walking along Fifth Avenue. Even his clothes matched the surveillance photo, Klein said in an affidavit.Klein said in the arrest report that the man, Raiford, “confessed to being the guy in the picture doing the robbery.”

Raiford told police he got out of jail in July. He said he had no home or job and he was hungry.

He said he didn't intend to rob the store but was unable to get money out of the ATM, according to the affidavit.

Raiford was arraigned by New Kensington District Judge Frank J. Pallone Jr. and sent to the county jail in lieu of $50,000 bond, pending a preliminary hearing.

Chuck Biedka is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4711 or cbiedka@tribweb.com.

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