Charges held in Tarentum holdup on strength of witnesses' testimony
Tarentum police say their robbery suspect chided them for having no case: They didn't have the gun, the money or a surveillance photo of his face or his tattoos.
What police did have though, were some remarkable witnesses who managed to track Justin Lamb, 27, on Oct. 24 from the Marathon gas station at the foot of the Tarentum Bridge to his West Ninth Avenue home in the adjacent West Tarentum neighborhood.
After hearing testimony at his preliminary hearing on Wednesday from passersby who helped police nab Lamb, District Judge Carolyn Bengel had a different opinion of the police's case than the suspect did: Bengel ordered that robbery and seven other charges against Lamb be held for Allegheny County Court.
Lamb is accused of being the man who walked into the gas station about 9 p.m.
The robber, who covered his face with a black-and-white bandana and wore a hood, pulled out a gun and demanded money from the cashier.
The robber left the store, walked to a green Saturn parked about a block away and drove toward West Tarentum, police said. He got away with about $160, according to police.
Authorities found Lamb hiding in a crawl space in the basement of the West Ninth apartment he shares with his girlfriend and his girlfriend's father.
Tarentum police Officer Mark Glogowski testified that Lamb bragged that he believed police didn't have enough evidence to prove he was the robber.
“He said, ‘You don't have the gun; you don't have the money; you don't have pictures of my face; you don't have pictures of my tattoos, so you don't have (anything),' ” Glogowski said.
The officer said surveillance photos from the gas station show the robber wore a glove on his left hand, but not his right.
Glogowski pointed out that Lamb has distinctive tattoos on his left hand, but none on his right.
“I don't think he counted on all the witnesses,” he said of Lamb.
Police have not recovered the antique gun they believe Lamb used in the robbery. However, on Wednesday, prosecutors added a second charge of possession of stolen property because the gun was apparently taken from Lamb's girlfriend's father.
Mindy Beattie, the cashier working the night of robbery, testified that the robber laid a gun on the counter and told her, “If you give me the money, no one will get shot.”
“He said, ‘Big bills, big bills.' I didn't have big bills,” Beattie testified. “I gave him what I had.”
She said she could not identify the robber as Lamb because she never saw his face, but she testified that she recognized the hoodie and bandana that police seized from Lamb's home that night.
Joshua Wentzel, Beattie's son, testified that he recognized the driver of a green car he saw speed past him as he was walking on West Seventh toward the Marathon station.
At the time, he didn't know the store had been robbed.
He later identified Lamb as the driver. He said he knew Lamb from his neighborhood because Lamb lives next door to a friend he visits often. Wentzel said he and Lamb had “gotten into an altercation” once at his friend's house.
A third witness, Thomas Gabb Jr. of Cheswick, told the court that he was sitting at the stop light on East Seventh Avenue next to the gas station when he happened to look over and see a man come out of the store wearing a bandana over his face.
He heard someone say the store had just been robbed, so he did a U-turn and followed the man. He watched him get into a sedan and drive the wrong way down East Eighth Avenue toward Ross Street (Route 366).
Gabb said he followed the vehicle into West Tarentum and later was able to identify it as a green Saturn with a red-and-white North Carolina license plate.
Police found a vehicle matching that description parked in front of the house where they apprehended Lamb.
In addition to the robbery charge, Lamb faces charges of simple assault, theft, terroristic threats and two driving offenses.
He is being held in the Allegheny County Jail on $100,000 bail.
Jodi Weigand is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4702 or firstname.lastname@example.org.