Connellsville football player killed in shooting; man in custody

| Friday, Nov. 22, 2013, 9:50 a.m.

Darrell Laki Ross Jr. was 15 when his mother died.

A year later, with his father back in prison, the 16-year-old was “left to care for himself without any adult supervision,” Fayette County court records show.

That summer, a county judge granted custody of the teen to his maternal grandfather, Peter Casini, mayor of South Connellsville, according to the documents.

On Thursday, Ross, 17, a popular Connellsville Area High School junior and standout athlete, was shot to death with a stolen revolver at a Uniontown home.

Hasani Simpkins, 20, formerly of Philadelphia, told police he fired the gun while it was pointed at Ross. He is charged with criminal homicide.

“After the firearm discharged, (Ross) fell back backwards into his seat and made a noise. Simpkins then ... 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,” according to a police affidavit.

Authorities said they don't know why Ross was at the house that night. City police Chief Jason Cox said numerous people live there, including Simpkins.

Neighbors said the house is sometimes “used as a hangout for juveniles,” Cox said. “We are still putting pieces of the puzzle together.”

Police found Ross bleeding from the head in an upstairs room at 39 Murray Ave. around 7 p.m., Detective Donald M. Gmitter said in an affidavit of probable cause.

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

Ross was pronounced dead at Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown from a single gunshot wound to the head, according to the West Virginia medical examiner's office.

“He had a personality that can light up a room,” said Assistant Principal David McDonald, Ross' football coach. “He had the ability to make people laugh. ... Everybody knew who Darrell was.”

At the high school, where students quietly grieved on Friday, Ross was a good student and a “special person,” Principal Nick Bosnic said. “He had a great personality. Other students gravitated to him.”

As an athlete, he was big, tough and talented, his coaches said.

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

Ross was the starting right fielder during the 2013 baseball season. Coach Rob Orndorff said he was a natural athlete.

“You could put him anywhere and he could be a difference-maker. He could change a game with one swing of the bat or his ability to pitch or his ability to make a great play defensively,” Orndorff said.

His teammates, fellow students and the staff are devastated, McDonald said.

“Darrell lost his mom two years ago,” the coach said. “He's with her now. That gives us comfort.”

Bosnic said Ross moved into the district two and a half years ago from Brownsville to live with Casini.

Ross' aunt, Kris Means of Connellsville, said her sister, Kelly Casini, died from a heart condition.

“Since then, he has lived with my father (Peter Casini),” she said, and he has a “beautiful little sister, age 5.”

The teen's father, Darrell Ross, 37, was sentenced to 10 years in prison in Clarksburg, W.Va., in 2001 after pleading guilty to conspiring to traffic cocaine, court records show. Ross went back to prison in 2010 after pleading guilty to new charges and was released on March 22.

Property records show the home where Ross Jr. was shot is owned by Russell and Louise Mechling of Uniontown. A message left with Russell Mechling was not returned Friday.

Simpkins remains in the county jail without bail. He also was charged with receiving stolen property and firearms not to be carried without a license. He faces a preliminary hearing Tuesday before District Judge Michael Metros.

Liz Zemba contributed.

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