Police arrest son-in-law in Donegal murder
By Rossilynne Skena and Kari Andren
Published: Thursday, Aug. 8, 2013, 10:42 a.m.
A Charleroi man has been charged with plunging a knife nine times into his father-in-law, then abandoning the victim's lifeless body in a vehicle along a Westmoreland County road, state police said Thursday evening.
Michael A. Martin, 40, was arrested in the brutal stabbing of Earl F. Weygandt, 67, of Charleroi. Police listed Martin's address as the same Daily Avenue home owned by the victim and his wife, Loretta, according to Washington County property records.
Family members said Martin was married to Loretta's daughter from a previous relationship.
Weygandt's body was found in his smoking Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo near Kalp Lane along Route 31 in Donegal Township on Wednesday night, just down the road from the Donegal interchange of the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
An autopsy revealed the victim was stabbed nine times, “the most severe being three stab wounds to the neck, severing both jugular veins and his esophagus,” police said.
Martin lured the victim to an area near TJ's Restaurant on Route 31 by saying his car had broken down and he needed Weygandt's help, according to an affidavit filed by Trooper John Zalich before Latrobe District Judge Michael Mahady.
Weygandt left his part-time home in a recreational vehicle at Roaring Run Resort in nearby Champion around 9:30 p.m., when he told security guard Ricky Espey he was picking up Martin to take him to a hotel because he “did not want him (Martin) at his trailer because he would cause problems,” the affidavit said. Weygandt left and never came back, Espey told police.
Martin initially told police that Weygandt never arrived, so Martin called a friend. That friend initially gave police an alibi for Martin, but then admitted that Martin had asked him to give police the cover story, according to police.
Martin voluntarily came to the police barracks for another interview on Thursday, records show.
“After a detailed discussion, Michael Martin confessed to the killing ...,” the affidavit said. “Martin alleged that (the) victim ... pulled a gun on him, specifically a revolver. Martin explained that a struggle ensued and he was in fear for his life. And during the struggle he stabbed the victim in the chest.”
Martin said he ran east along Route 31 to his vehicle and then fled home.
Martin has a criminal history of minor crimes, ranging from driving under the influence to possession of marijuana, court records show. He told police his license was suspended.
Mahady denied bond and Martin was taken to the county prison.
Further details will be disclosed at a press conference to be held at the Greensburg state police barracks at 10 a.m.on Friday, police said.
A passing motorist spotted Weygandt's vehicle shortly after 10 p.m. Wednesday on the berm of the westbound side of Route 31 near Kalp Lane and called 911 to report a car fire, police said.
It turned out the vehicle wasn't on fire, but was overheating, with Weygandt in the driver's seat, according to state police Trooper Steve Limani.
A family member said it's the second time in less than a year that someone made an attempt on the life of the former glassworker and Army veteran.
His nephew, Earl DeChicchis, 44, of Bentleyville said his uncle was shot three times in the face and once in the arm while camping at an unknown location in October.
“It happened when he was sleeping. They opened the door to his trailer (and) fired off some rounds,” said DeChicchis, who said he was named after the victim.
“He really was a good guy. Uncle Earl, he kind of kept to himself. He'd come around and visit a little bit, but we don't even know a whole lot about his private life,” DeChicchis said.
State police confirmed they investigated a report that Weygandt had been shot at a Donegal residence, but were unable to make an arrest and would not comment whether it was linked to Weygandt's slaying.
Less than two hours before his body was discovered, Weygandt, a member of the Veterans of Foreign War post in Donegal, was at the club where he frequently stopped for a beer, VFW members said Thursday.
“Everything seemed normal,” said Jim Ulery, senior vice president of the post, who saw the victim.
Post commander Jack Mognet said state police seized surveillance video from the facility.
Mognet said members recall seeing Weygandt leave the club between 9 and 9:30 p.m. to drive a friend home. That friend, Mognet said, was delivered home safely.
Although he lived in the mid-Mon Valley since 2000, Weygandt stayed off and on at Roaring Run Resort on Tannery Road, said Dave Geddes, who owns the campground located about 3 miles from where the victim was found. Roaring Run offers rental cabins and spaces to hook up recreational vehicles, according to its website.
Lately, Weygandt's schedule was predictable. He often stayed at the campground Wednesday nights and weekends, Geddes said.
Geddes remembers Weygandt as a man fiercely proud of his Army service who often wore a hat emblazoned with “Vet.”
He also remembered his affinity for the outdoors.
“He loves camping, loves the outdoors,” Geddes said. “He was a very quiet man. He was a good guy, real good guy.”
Bob Kozlowski, secretary/treasurer of the Veterans Association at the American Legion in Donegal, said he was “stunned” by the news of Weygandt's death.
“He's such a good, good guy,” Kozlowski said. “Gentle.”
Weygandt was in charge of a local honor guard, which serves at veterans' funerals.
“I'm going to hurt,” Kozlowski said. “He was my right-hand man. ... This club is like a big family.”
American Legion bartender Valerie Chearney said she's known the victim for 29 years. He would come in around 6:30 each morning, have coffee and watch the news.
“The last couple days he seemed like something was on his mind, like he was worried,” Chearney said. “He didn't really say too much. He just didn't seem comfortable.”
Chearney said his tires were slashed on Sunday.
“When the flat tires came, I told him, ‘You can't ignore it and think kids did it,'” Chearney said.
Bill Weygandt, 89, of Charleroi said his son retired from Corning Glass in Charleroi “a couple years ago.”
Family members recalled that he was an amateur photographer who loved to shoot landscapes.
“He liked to be out there in nature with his camera and taking photographs. That was his thing; that and the military,” DeChicchis said.
Kimberly Weygandt, 47, one of the victim's sisters, remembered how her brother showed her the world through the lens of his camera.
“When he was in the Army and I was very little, we got to live vicariously through his slides,” she said. “He would send slides home (from Germany). We got to travel with him in a sense. We would look at these beautiful places we never dreamed we could ever visit.”
Rossilynne Skena and Kari Andren are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Staff writers Richard Gazarik and Kate Wilcox contributed to this report.
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