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City plans 'blitz' on South Side

| Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2013, 10:58 a.m.
Pittsburgh City Councilman Bruce Kraus talks about steps the city will be taking to make the South Side safer during a news conference at South 16th and Roland streets on Tuesday, January 15, 2013. Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Pittsburgh police charged Donald Burris Jr., 32, of Carnegie with several counts of aggravated assault, recklessly endangering another person and one count of fleeing an officer for a violent car chase through the South Side early Sunday, Jan. 13, 2013. Submitted by Pittsburgh police
Pittsburgh City Councilman Bruce Kraus talks about steps the city will be taking to make the South Side safer during a news conference at South 16th and Roland streets on Tuesday, January 15, 2013. Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review

Pittsburgh police and other public safety officials will “blitz” the South Side to deal with the party atmosphere that was highlighted again when police opened fire on a car that was barreling toward people crowded onto the streets and sidewalks, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said on Tuesday.

“It's a pretty safe bet that if you're here Friday or Saturday and in some way, shape or form breaking the law, chances are, you will be cited,” Ravenstahl said at a news conference on 16th Street, near where five officers shot at a green Buick that led police on a chase through several communities early Sunday.

Police fired at least 12 shots as Donald Burris Jr., 32, of Carnegie wove in and out of traffic, striking cars and nearly hitting officers and pedestrians.

Police charged Burris with several counts of aggravated assault, recklessly endangering another person and one count of fleeing an officer.

The barrage of bullets in the heart of the busy bar district 15 minutes before closing time caused some people to question whether officers acted appropriately. A stray bullet grazed one bystander as officers fired at Burris and his mother, Lena Davenport, 49, who was in the passenger seat. Burris and Davenport were struck.

One officer fired into the wrong vehicle but did not injure the people inside, police said.

Officials defended the shooting, saying the officers were trying to stop Burris and protect the public. Chief Nate Harper said the incident and the officers' actions are under investigation.

“We're still reviewing a lot of film footage and reports,” Harper said.

Homestead police began chasing Burris when he ran a red light about 1:40 a.m. Burris drove through Homestead and West Homestead and finally onto Carson Street, police said.

City officers who were working off-duty security described a frightening scene as the car approached. Burris was about 30 feet away from Sgt. Stephen Matakovich and Detective Calvin Kennedy when both men opened fire, according to a criminal complaint.

Matakovich told investigators he fired four times near 17th Street and then jumped out of the way of the Buick, which banged off a car and continued swerving. Kennedy, who was standing next to Matakovich, heard the sergeant fire just before he fired a shot of his own and jumped out of the way.

Officer Louis Schweitzer said he was trying to clear people from Carson Street near 17th street when he saw the vehicle heading directly at him. He told investigators he fired three or four shots and the driver swerved to his right and continued down the street.

Officer Thomas Gorecki told investigators he stepped onto Carson and saw a vehicle “pinballing” off cars in the 1400 block and heard two shots. Gorecki said he was between a cab and the vehicle when he stepped to the side and fired two shots at the driver from between 5 and 6 feet away, the complaint said. The vehicle hit the front of the cab and came to a stop, and Gorecki jumped on the hood of the cab and kept his gun aimed at Burris until officers pulled the suspect out.

Burris was shot in the arm, and broke his arm when the Buick crashed. Davenport was more seriously injured with a bullet wound to the face. Paramedics took them to UPMC Mercy. Police took Burris to the Allegheny County Jail on Tuesday. Davenport's condition was not known.

Officer Igor Boyko told police he ran to 13th Street to move pedestrians to safety when heard the chase and then saw another vehicle — a Buick SUV — drive directly at him. Boyko thought it was the suspect's vehicle and fired “several” shots at the driver, the complaint said. The SUV stopped in a parking lot and Boyko saw damage to the rear, where Burris' vehicle had crashed into the back of the Buick SUV and forced it toward Boyko. The driver and passengers of the SUV, who police did not name, were not hurt, the complaint said.

Fraternal Order of Police Fort Pitt Lodge No. 1 President Sgt. Michael LaPorte defended the officers' actions and said they were within police policy.

“You're justified in a use of deadly force whenever deadly force is used,” LaPorte said.

Ravenstahl focused his news conference on the city's plans for the coming weekend, which include inspections by building inspectors and firefighters, police patrols through alleys targeting disorderly conduct, roving DUI patrols and an increase in towing enforcement. The mayor would not say how much the blitz will cost.

“This blitz will take place every Friday and Saturday night until the problem is rectified,” he said.

Margaret Harding is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8519 or

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