Lower Burrell officers recognized for ending theft ring

Liz Hayes
| Sunday, July 27, 2014, 12:41 a.m.

The American Police Hall of Fame and Museum has recognized five Lower Burrell police officers and a police dog for their contributions toward breaking up a regional burglary ring earlier this year.

Police Chief Tim Weitzel said the crew was nominated for the General Commendation Award for the March arrest of two alleged burglars found on the roof of the former J.C. Penney building.

Lower Burrell police were tipped off by detectives from Pittsburgh Police and the Allegheny County District Attorney's Office that people under investigation for stealing thousands of dollars worth of copper and other scrap from vacant buildings in Allegheny, Westmoreland and Fayette counties might be targeting the vacant Burrell Plaza buildings.

Early on March 18, Sgt. Scott Miller and Patrolman Brendon Noll were on patrol when they spotted the Jeep of suspect Kevin Mark Foster, 24, of Pittsburgh parked near the plaza, Weitzel said.

Detective Sgts. Scott Cardenas and Jason Napier, Patrolman Stephen Cernava and Dax were called to help search the buildings.

They found gloves and a black bag containing “burglary tools” such as screwdrivers, a bolt cutter, an electric volt meter and other hand tools near a rear loading dock of the J.C. Penney building, according to court documents.

Police found a cordless drill and partially removed plywood where police believe the suspects had entered five days earlier to burglarize the building. But when they searched inside for the suspects, “they came up empty,” Weitzel said.

“Instead of packing it in when they didn't find anyone, they called in the volunteer fire department to search the roof,” Weitzel said.

Eventually, they found Foster and Jonathan Edward Lachman, 25, of Greensburg hiding in the rooftop ventilation system.

Foster allegedly told police he and Lachman planned to steal copper wire, according to court documents.

The two were arrested. Each was charged with felony counts of theft, burglary, trespassing, receiving stolen property and conspiracy plus loitering/prowling at night, possessing instruments of crime and criminal mischief.

Police allege the two also broke into the J.C. Penney building on March 13 and stole chrome and brass fixtures from 10 toilets, two urinals and eight sinks, plus a steel wastebasket and copper pipe from an air conditioner. The metal was sold at the All American Metals & Recycling scrap yard in Carnegie for $100, investigators said.

Foster told police that Shawn Lellock, 29, and Robert Strong, 26, both of Pittsburgh, participated in the first burglary at the store. Both face charges connected to that incident and others.

In all, detectives said the burglaries resulted in $16,000 in damage at the J.C. Penney building.

While Foster was in custody, he allegedly confessed to burglaries, scrap thefts, arsons and other crimes in Baldwin, Connellsville, Glassport, Jeannette, Monroeville, Pittsburgh, Trafford, West Mifflin and Wilkins, according to court documents.

Foster also named 10 others, including Lellock and Strong, who allegedly were involved in the ring, which is accused of stealing in excess of $50,000 worth of scrap metal and causing about $450,000 in damage, investigators said.

“The whole ring collapsed because of the arrest,” Lower Burrell Mayor Don Kinosz said.

It “ripped the lid off a larger investigation,” Weitzel said.

For their “outstanding act during the performance of their duties,” the police officers were recognized by the Florida-based organization with medals, uniform bars and lapel pins.

Dax, the police dog, received an award for his “outstanding and loyal service.”

David Regoli distributed the awards to the officers in one of his last acts as councilman before he became a Westmoreland County judge. “It's certainly well deserved,” Regoli said of the officers' recognition.

As if agreeing, Dax let out a bark as he was led from council chambers.

Liz Hayes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4680 or lhayes@tribweb.com.

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