Hopwood man charged in crime spree in Fayette County

| Tuesday, July 8, 2014, 2:31 p.m.

Donella Johnson had just finished grocery shopping in Fayette County Saturday when she made a quick stop at the Best For Less convenience store on Connellsville Street in North Union.

When the Hopwood woman exited the store to get back into her Oldsmobile Alero, she found herself struggling for control of her car with David Leslie Klippi Jr. He was in the midst of a four-day crime spree that included robbing a bank, a Dairy Queen and a gas station, according to state police.

“I opened the door, and we were fighting over the car door,” said Johnson Tuesday, outside the state police barracks near Uniontown following Klippi's arrest hours earlier in a North Union field.

“I was screaming, telling him to get out of my car, and give me my car,” Johnson said.

Klippi got the best of Johnson, pushing her back and taking off with her vehicle, $80 worth of groceries, purse and $1,000 in cash, police said in a criminal complaint.

The car theft is just one in a series of crimes that Klippi, 39, of Hopwood, is accused of committing between July 4 and July 7.

Police said when they apprehended Klippi, he had in his possession a note used to rob a PNC bank in South Union on Monday and $250 in “bait money,” or marked bills, according to a criminal complaint filed by Trooper Craig Soltis.

Sporting a swollen right eye and numerous scratches on his torso, a handcuffed Klippi had no comment as he was led from the barracks to a patrol car Tuesday. He was to be taken to several different district judges' offices to be arraigned on various criminal charges, said state police spokeswoman Stefani Plume.

Asked if he had a drug problem, Klippi told reporters to “get out of my face.”

In 2010, Klippi told a Fayette County judge during a plea hearing on drunken driving and retail theft charges he was taking methadone, a drug commonly prescribed to individuals recovering from heroin and other drug dependencies.

Klippi told the judge he had been diagnosed with a “slight case of paranoid schizophrenia.”

Plume said his alleged crime spree began July 4 on Connellsville Street in Uniontown, where Klippi is accused of stealing a Chevy Impala at 5:30 p.m. From there, Klippi drove to a Kmart store in South Union, where he tried unsuccessfully at 6:01 p.m. to use the car owner's bank card to buy two televisions for $700, according to a criminal complaint filed by Trooper Daniel Boyd.

Ten minutes later, Klippi went to a Dairy Queen in South Union, where he told a female employee he had a gun and handed her a note that read, “give me all the money, I'm desperate,” the complaint said.

Klippi fled in the stolen car with $64 cash, but another employee ran outside and obtained the vehicle's license registration, police said.

At 3:30 a.m. Saturday, Klippi drove the Impala to an Exxon Station on Pittsburgh Street in North Union, told an employee he had a gun and fled with $80 cash, said Boyd in the complaint. Some 12 hours later, at 3 p.m., he took Johnson's car groceries, purse and cash, police said.

On Monday, Klippi went to a car dealership in Connellsville, Tri-State Preowned, where he asked for the keys to a 2005 Volkswagen Jetta so he could take it for a test drive, police said. An employee told police he gave Klippi the keys, went back into the dealership, then “looked out to see Klippi fleeing” in the Jetta.

Klippi drove the Jetta to the PNC Bank on Synergy Drive, where at 5:45 p.m. he passed a note to a teller that read, “give money.” Klippi got $1,135 in cash, including $500 in “bait money,” Soltis said in the criminal complaint.

Plume said when police released photos from the Dairy Queen and PNC robberies, they received tips identifying Klippi as the suspect. When a tipster told police Klippi, who was wanted for a parole violation, was staying at a Youngstown Road apartment complex, four troopers who went to the North Union address saw him standing in a doorway, said police.

When Klippi saw the troopers, he fled outdoors, where he was taken into custody, Plume said.

Police said Klippi had three of the bank's marked “bait money” bills on his person, along with the “give money” note written on a bank receipt, in a plastic bag when they apprehended him. Inside the apartment where Klippi was staying, police said, they found articles of clothing worn during the Dairy Queen robbery.

Although Johnson's stolen car was recovered and returned to her, she was relieved to learn Klippi was in custody. “I'm very glad,” Johnson said. “He has my car keys, my house keys, he has everything. So I'm really glad that they have him.”

Klippi was arraigned Tuesday before South Union Senior District Judge Robert Breakiron on charges of robbery of a financial institution, robbery of a motor vehicle, theft, receiving stolen property, simple assault, criminal mischief, access device fraud and resisting arrest. Uniontown Police charged Klippi before District Judge Michael Metros with theft, receiving stolen property and driving on a suspended license.

Klippi is in the Fayette County Prison in lieu of $150,000 bond.

Liz Zemba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-601-2166 or lzemba@tribweb.com.

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