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Shooting death of former Slippery Rock standout raises security questions

| Saturday, Aug. 3, 2013, 10:10 a.m.
Heidi Murrin | Tribune-Review
Zach Sheridan, 24, a former Slippery Rock University football standout, was shot outside the Original Hot Dog shop, commonly known as 'The O,' on Forbes Avenue in Oakland early Saturday, Aug. 3, 2013.

An armed off-duty Pittsburgh police officer might have been able to stop or prevent a fatal shooting near a popular Oakland restaurant on Saturday, a city police sergeant said, but officers have not been stationed there since November.

“Hindsight is 20/20, but I think it would not have happened if an armed officer had been there,” Sgt. James Vogel said of the shooting near the Original Hot Dog Shop, commonly known as “The O,” on Forbes Avenue.

Zachary Sheridan, 24, of Brookline, a former Slippery Rock University football standout, died after he was shot about 3:30 a.m.

According to police:

An argument that started inside the restaurant continued out on the street. Three white men, including Sheridan, walked east along Forbes toward the University of Pittsburgh campus when three black men and a black woman followed. The groups then got into a fistfight outside Dunkin' Donuts.

As Sheridan and his friends began to run away, a black male fired a handgun. A bullet struck Sheridan in the neck, and he collapsed near the corner of South Bouquet and Sennott streets. Paramedics transported him to UPMC Presbyterian a few blocks away, where police said he was pronounced dead.

Pitt police responded to the scene after hearing gunshots and called city officers for backup. They found and assisted Sheridan, but the suspects had already fled, police said.

No arrests have been made. Police were searching for a black man who they say shot Sheridan. He is described as 5 feet 9 inches tall, 250 pounds, approximately 25 years old, with a medium complexion and closely cropped hair. He was wearing a white T-shirt, short pants and white high-top tennis shoes.

Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Michael Huss said he did not know why an off-duty officer was no longer at the restaurant, but he did not believe the city would have halted the arrangement. Some businesses pay off-duty police to provide security.

A woman whom employees identified as the owner of the restaurant refused to comment.

Huss said he did not know whether an officer would have been there at the time of the shooting in any event. The restaurant is open until 3:30 a.m. Police spokeswoman Diane Richard said additional information would not be available through the department's Special Events Office until Monday.

Patrons at the restaurant said they still felt safe there in the wake of the shooting, most of the time.

“I feel that being here around 2 a.m. is probably not very safe,” said John Heflin of Meadville.

Sheridan was an All-Century Conference linebacker at Seton-La Salle High School and a three-year starter at Slippery Rock from 2009-11. He also played running back, halfback and tight end for Seton-La Salle and was a special teams player on the 2004 WPIAL Class AA championship team.

“He was a good kid, a fun-loving kid who liked to have a good time,” Seton-La Salle coach Greg Perry said. “This is so sad. I really feel for his parents. He ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time, and something happens and he's gone. It leaves us asking questions.”

Perry said Sheridan was looking for work. School officials said he was a safety and environmental management major.

Slippery Rock issued a statement from football coach George Mihalik that read in part, “The Rock Football Family is devastated by the news of Zach's death. Zach loved Rock football and Rock football loved Zach. Our sincere sympathy goes out to Zach's family.”

Sheridan's family declined to comment.

He was seventh all-time in tackles at Slippery Rock with 315 and tied for 10th in sacks with 11. He was Slippery Rock's leading tackler in each of his final three seasons and was named a preseason All-American by Consensus Draft Services before his senior year.

University spokesman Bob McComas said the football team will wear a commemorative decal with Sheridan's No. 4 jersey number on the back of their helmets during the 2013 season to honor his memory

The Allegheny County Medical Examiner's Office ruled the death a homicide.

Staff writer Kevin Gorman contributed. Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or bvidonic@tribweb.com.

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