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Insurance company cancels auction of slain Penn Hills officer's car

| Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013, 6:28 p.m.
The bullet-riddled patrol vehicle that slain Penn Hills police Officer Michael Crawshaw was murdered in was listed by Traveler's Insurance for auction.

An insurance company removed from the auction block the Penn Hills police cruiser in which Officer Michael Crawshaw was gunned down, and officials hope to donate one of its doors to a police memorial.

"We regret there wasn't more sensitivity exercised given this unique and tragic situation, and apologize for any distress this may have caused," Travelers Insurance spokesman Matt Bordonaro said on Tuesday. "We are actively working with the town to properly handle the vehicle."

Allegheny County police, who investigated the case, released the Chevy Impala to Penn Hills' insurance company on Jan. 23, a week after a jury convicted his killer. Because the car was a total loss, Travelers paid the claim to Penn Hills and took the car like any other vehicle that is totaled, county police Superintendent Charles Moffatt said.

Copart Salvage Auto Auctions in Ellwood City was set to sell the bullet-riddled car until Penn Hills officials learned of the sale and asked for its return.

"We were alerted to it being (on Copart's website) by the media. Once the manager called me, I told him, ‘Get it back.' We want it demolished, and we're in contact with the insurance company," said Mayor Tony DeLuca Jr.

Travelers agreed to paint over the emblems and crush the car, DeLuca said. Penn Hills police requested that one door be removed and suggested sending it to the National Law Enforcement Museum, which has a planned 2015 opening in Washington.

The Crawshaw family thanked Penn Hills and Travelers for taking the car off the auction block.

"When these officers do not make it home, we have a responsibility as family, friends, co-workers and community leaders to honor and preserve the legacy of those who made the ultimate sacrifice," they said in a written statement issued by family friend Joe Derouin. "This is a responsibility that should not be taken lightly, and we hope that those involved have learned from this unfortunate incident and steps are taken to prevent this from ever occurring again."

Police Chief Howard Burton said he doesn't fault county investigators for releasing the car.

"There's no fingers to point or blame to be had."

An Allegheny County jury on Jan. 15 convicted Ronald Robinson, 35, of killing Danyal Morton, 40, in the bathroom of Morton's Penn Hills home over a $500 drug debt on Dec. 6, 2009, and as he fled spraying Crawshaw's police car with shots from an AK-47 military-style rifle. Robinson struck Crawshaw, 32, in the head and the left arm. Robinson is serving two consecutive life sentences.

Government agencies routinely auction off used vehicles. Police officials said they handle vehicles involved in officers' deaths on a case-by-case basis.

"In some instances, the department would be compelled to hold the vehicle as evidence for a period of time until all appeals and criminal proceedings would be undertaken," said Paul Donaldson, Pittsburgh police deputy chief.

When a man fatally shot three Pittsburgh officers on April 4, 2009, as they responded to a domestic disturbance, the city eventually put two of the cruisers they used back on the street until they retired them and sold them at auction, Donaldson said. The cars were not damaged in the shootings.

The personal vehicle of the third slain officer, Eric G. Kelly, was severely damaged and remains in police storage, Donaldson said.

Diane Espey of Penn Hills, who was one of the first people to discover Crawshaw's body after the shooting, said she supported the idea of displaying the car door in a museum.

"Anything that would memorialize Michael would be a great tribute," Espey said, adding she was happy to learn that the car as a whole was not auctioned.

"That's not something that should happen. I'm glad it's being destroyed."

Bobby Kerlik and Patrick Varine are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Kerlik can be reached at 412-320-7886 or bkerlik@tribweb.com. Varine can be reached at 412-320-7845 or pvarine@tribweb.com.

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