Inquest planned into fatal police shooting
It likely will be months before a formal inquest is held into the death a 26-year-old East Huntingdon man who was fatally shot Friday by a state trooper he attacked with a pair of scissors, Westmoreland County Coroner Ken Bacha said on Monday.
“I don't know why we wouldn't hold one. ... It's been our policy around here since I've been here,” Bacha said.
In his 12 years as coroner, Bacha said, his practice has been to put “all of the information out there before the public” on police shooting incidents to promote transparency.
Seth William O'Donnell of the Mt. Pleasant Village Mobile Home Court and formerly of Scottdale died in the parking lot outside the Save-A- Lot store in the Cross Roads Plaza off Route 819.
O'Donnell was shot by a still-unidentified trooper who had responded to a call from the grocery store that O'Donnell was acting aggressively toward an employee with a pair of scissors just after 9 a.m. Police had received a similar report earlier that morning that O'Donnell was acting in a threatening manner with scissors in a nearby Wal-Mart store.
Police said the trooper, who has been described as a 10-year veteran, first attempted to get O'Donnell to drop the scissors. During an altercation, O'Donnell slashed the trooper with the scissors. Police said the trooper shot O'Donnell after attempting to subdue him with a Taser.
State police spokesman Steve Limani, who was not available for comment on Monday, said the trooper's head cut required six stitches and O'Donnell struck the trooper “several other times with the scissors (in the chest); however, most of those were absorbed by the trooper's protective vest.”
Limani said Friday that the trooper is on paid leave while his injuries heal and the state police internal affairs department investigates the circumstances of the shooting.
One witness reported hearing four shots, but a state police report disclosed only that multiple “shots” were fired. O'Donnell ran from the store and collapsed in the parking lot from a fatal wound “to the torso area,” police said.
Police said several other troopers arrived in the parking lot after O'Donnell fell, but only one trooper fired shots.
Bacha said he is awaiting a formal autopsy report from the Pittsburgh firm of Cyril H. Wecht and Pathology Associates. He has not made a formal ruling on the cause and manner of death.
“We're awaiting the formal autopsy report, plus state police are still investigating. ... It will probably be weeks before they get the ballistics tests back,” Bacha said.
Under state statute, the coroner, or a coroner's jury, listens to testimony, much like a trial, and recommends whether a district attorney should file criminal charges or whether a shooting was justified. The recommendation is not binding.
Police said they knew O'Donnell from previous incidents.
In August, O'Donnell was released from jail after serving six months for beating his mother and two others with a 3-pound mantel clock at the mother's East Huntingdon home on Feb. 24.
Judge Debra A. Pezze ordered O'Donnell to continue mental health treatment and to undergo drug and alcohol counseling as terms of his release.
O'Donnell pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of simple assault for the attack on his mother, Tammy Tabaj, and Richard Kriger, both teachers at Southmoreland Elementary School. Neighbor Gertrude Pinskey, 83, was injured when she ran to help Tabaj.
Bacha said O'Donnell's family members have claimed his body. Hoffer Funeral Home in Norvelt is handling arrangements.
Paul Peirce is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-850-2860 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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