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Connellsville football player killed in shooting; man in custody

By Mary Pickels and Karl Polacek
Friday, Nov. 22, 2013, 5:09 a.m.

A popular Connellsville Area High School junior who was a football team standout was shot to death Thursday night at a home in Uniontown.

City police said Darrell Ross, 17, was shot in the back of the head at 39 Murray Ave.

Hasani Simpkins, 20, of Uniontown, formerly of Philadelphia, was arraigned on a charge of criminal homicide early Friday morning. He is being held in prison without bail.

Police found Ross bleeding from the head in an upstairs room of the home, Uniontown Detective Donald M. Gmitter said in an affidavit of probable cause.

Officers discovered Simpkins hiding nearby between a row of hedges and a garage. A gun lay about 100 feet away in an alley. The .22 caliber Rough Rider had been reported stolen to state police in Belle Vernon on Oct. 29.

Simpkins admitted to police that he fired the gun while it was pointed at Ross.

“After the firearm discharged, (Ross) fell back backwards into his seat and made a noise. Simpkins then stated that he threw the gun on the floor and fled the residence. Simpkins said that he walked around and waited for the police to pick him up,” Gmitter stated in the affidavit.

Ross was pronounced dead at Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown, W.Va. He died of a single gunshot wound to the head, according to James Laird of the West Virginia medical examiner's office.

Nick Bosnic, Connellsville Area High School principal, said Ross had moved into the district two and a half years ago from Brownsville and had been living with his grandfather, Pete Casini, mayor of South Connellsville.

Bosnic said Ross was a good student and a “special person.”

“He had a great personality. Other students gravitated to him,” Bosnic said.

Students were grieving on Friday, he said, adding the community would pull together.

“To me, it's about our Connellsville community,” he said. “During times of difficult loss, our community really pulls together.”

Ross a 6-foot-2-inch, 195-pound wide receiver, caught 31 passes for 343 yards and three touchdowns this season for Connellsville. In one game, he played through a broken thumb.

David McDonald, Ross' coach and an assistant high school principal, said football players are devastated, along with other students, teachers and administrators.

“He had a personality that can light up a room,” McDonald said. “He had the ability to make people laugh. He brought a smile and love. Everybody knew who Darrell was.”

“Darrell lost his mom two years ago,” McDonald said. “He's with her now. That gives us comfort. Unfortunately he only lived 17 years, but he got his money's worth.”

Ross' mother died in 2011 and his father was in prison, according to court documents.

In court papers filed with the Fayette County prothonotary in June 2012, Common Pleas Judge Ralph Warman granted “sole legal and physical custody” of Darrell Laki Ross Jr. to his maternal grandfather, Peter Casini.

The paperwork notes that Ross' mother, Kelly Lynn Casini, died on Nov. 29, 2011. Darrell Ross, the teen's father, was incarcerated, had an extensive criminal record and was released from federal prison in 2010 after serving a lengthy sentence, according to the filing.

The filing seeking custody stated that Ross, then 16, was believed to be living temporarily with a cousin in Uniontown and was “left to care for himself without any adult supervision.”

On Thursday night, city police Lt. Tom Kolencik said there were “tons of people in the home,” in a residential area just off Main Street, at the time of the shooting.

Simpkins told police he had lived in the house for several months and was moving out.

County property records show the home is owned by Russell and Louise Mechling of Belmont Circle, Uniontown.

Simpkins also faces charges of receiving stolen property and firearms not to be carried with a license is in the Fayette County Prison. Masontown District Judge Randy Abraham denied him bail.

He faces a preliminary hearing at 10 a.m. Tuesday before District Judge Michael Metros.



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