ATV scofflaws in Monessen face wall in park
By Rick Bruni Jr.
Published: Monday, Nov. 11, 2013, 12:41 a.m.
All-terrain vehicles have been “walled off” at Ninth Street Park in Monessen.
For the past year, ATVs – or “quads” – have been tormenting residents and conducting alleged drug sales throughout the city, police said.
So, Monessen police on Friday had a thick concrete wall erected to block a popular ATV pathway at the rear of Ninth Street Park.
Now, instead of fleeing down the hill and through the woods, illegal riders who enter the park will have no way out.
ATVs cannot legally be ridden on public streets in Pennsylvania.
“When I first took over, our No. 1 complaint we had was drugs,” Monessen police Chief John Mandarino said of his June promotion. “Quads on the roadways have taken over that No. 1 spot.”
Mandarino used money from the department's drug fund — cash seized during warrant searches or drug busts — to pay for the 21 stone blocks that weigh 5,000 pounds apiece. They are the same kind of blocks the city used to obstruct lower Ninth Street during a recent project.
The wall covers a 50-yard section of what used to be chain link fence. ATVs continually rode through that location into a wooded area that contains the brick remnants of the former Morgan Street, behind Highland Manor.
“If we didn't cover the whole fence, they'd have just cut another hole into it,” Mandarino said Sunday. “I get complaints every day, every day, about these kids riding their quads in here. ... We haven't had any complaints of quads here since we put this up.”
Although quad riding has been a problem – including illegal activity in Shawnee, City and Columbus parks – two recent incidents near Ninth Street Park forced police to target the area.
On Wednesday, Shaiquane Harrison, 18, of Monessen, wrecked his quad inside the park, police said.
He was taken via medical helicopter to a hospital for treatment. Allegheny General Hospital of Pittsburgh spokeswoman Jennifer Davis said Harrison was not listed as a patient Sunday.
In October, Monessen police impounded an abandoned ATV from the middle of state Route 906 near the Sunoco station after the driver apparently rolled it down the adjacent hillside.
“I get more complaints daily about people riding their quads on public roads … and they don't stop. They just come ripping through stop signs and alleyways,” Mandarino said while touring the area. “They actually used (Ninth Street Park) as a racing track. There's a trail you could almost drive a truck through – that's how wide it is – and they ride their quads all the way along 906 to the Charleroi-Monessen Bridge.”
Mandarino said the new blockade will not only deter riders from tearing up the park's grass and hillsides, but also will curb drug sales.
He said a number of riders are known to carry and sell heroin and marijuana from their ATVs.
“They're transporting drugs on quads, and they're also selling drugs back here. If police come, they just ride back into the woods,” Mandarino said. “Now, when the cops come, we've got them cornered, because there's only one way in and one way out.”
On July 29, police Lt. Carl Fronzaglio said he witnessed Cameron Grogan, 20, of Columbus Avenue pull his ATV up to a car in Columbus Park occupied by Kelly Leary, 44, of Rostraver Township.
When police arrived, Grogan sped into the woods.
Police subsequently arrested Leary and charged her with drug possession.
Grogan was not charged with any drug violation in that case.
However, last month, Grogan waived his right to a preliminary hearing on several charges, including fleeing or attempting to elude a police officer. He faces trial in Westmoreland County Court on those charges.
Monessen police estimate they've made at least a dozen ATV arrests since the summer.
However, the riders of such vehicles are difficult to catch — and police are not allowed to chase them. Mandarino said ATVs remain a favored method for dealers, because they know police must adhere to a pursuit policy.
“The only reason we can chase motor vehicles is if a felony was committed,” Mandarino said. “We cannot chase these people on quads for fear they'll wreck into somebody else, wreck into a pole or cause one of our guys to get hurt. ... The liability is just too much.”
Mandarino said police hope blocking off riding paths like the wall at Ninth Street Park proves an effective option.
“This is a city park, it's not a Motocross track,” he said. “I want kids and families to come down and use the park. I don't want people on dirt bikes and quads tearing it to shreds and selling drugs, so no one can use it for what it's intended.
“I know they're still going to ride their quads in the woods, but they're not going to be able to ride in this park anymore.”
Rick Bruni Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-684-2635.
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