ShareThis Page

Police make arrest in fatal shooting that occurred near Washington County Courthouse

Tom Fontaine
| Friday, Oct. 19, 2012, 11:12 a.m.

Washington police on Friday charged an Upper St. Clair man for the fatal shooting of a man in what authorities said started as a road-rage incident that escalated.

Brandon Thomas, 30, of Redfern Drive is accused of shooting Vaughn A. Simonelli, 55, of Chartiers twice with a small-caliber pistol as the men argued on Thursday in the parking lot of a strip plaza a few blocks from the Washington County Courthouse.

“We're trying to see how far back the altercation started,” Washington Detective Dan Stanek said.

Witnesses said the men were yelling at each other in the 400 or 500 block of Jefferson Avenue, a few blocks from the West Beau Street plaza where the shooting occurred, Stanek said.

Simonelli punched Thomas before Thomas grabbed a gun out of his Hummer and fired, witnesses told the Tribune-Review. Stanek would not confirm that, saying detectives were still investigating. A police report says only that Thomas pulled a gun as the men stood alongside Thomas' sport utility vehicle.

Exactly what happened will play a key role in the prosecution of the case, experts said.

“Every American has the right to be free from assault. Just because (Simonelli) didn't have a gun, fists and feet can be deadly weapons or ruin the rest of a person's life,” said Kim Stolfer, chairman of the advocacy group Firearms Owners Against Crime. “But how he was punched, what led up to the situation, all those factors have to be looked at.”

University of Pittsburgh law professor John Burkoff said, “It could be you are faced with some kind of force, but you're not always allowed to use deadly force against people. You can only use (deadly force) if it is necessary to defend yourself.”

Thomas was charged with homicide and was being held in the Washington County Correctional Facility without bail, police said. His preliminary hearing is tentatively set for Wednesday.

No one answered the door at Thomas' home on a quiet, tree-lined street with large homes in Upper St. Clair. Neighbors said they did not know him and that he had not lived there long.

In Chartiers, Betty Gontas, 49, of Washington said her parents have rented a small home that Simonelli owned along busy Henderson Avenue for the past three years. Simonelli sometimes stayed in the basement, but more often spent time at a girlfriend's place.

Pennsylvania court records show he was charged with aggravated assault, reckless endangerment and mischief in a 1990 incident, but pleaded guilty only to the latter offense and spent two years on probation.

“It's sad and shocking,” she said of Simonelli's shooting death.

Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7847 or

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.