Donegal tavern shooting victim relieved alleged attacker off street
After Rhonda Neiderhiser's assailant accepted a plea bargain on June 5 for a 2011 shooting outside a Donegal tavern, Neiderhiser says she warned the Westmoreland District Attorney's office it would deal with the shooter again one day.
“But I really didn't think it would be this quick. I am glad Matthew Lowe's now off the streets so he can't shoot anybody else,” Neiderhiser said Friday, regarding the arrest this week of Matthew T. Lowe, 34, of Indian Head, Fayette County.
Lowe pleaded guilty in Westmoreland County Common Pleas Court on June 5 to two counts of aggravated assault for shooting Neiderhiser and her husband, Todd, both of Mt. Pleasant, outside of the Tall Cedars Lounge.
He had been facing a potential 10 to 20 years in prison if convicted of the original charge of attempted homicide.
After pleading guilty in the plea bargain, Lowe had asked Westmoreland County Judge Debra A. Pezze for a brief delay — until July 8 — in reporting to prison in order to complete some personal matters before serving an anticipated 9 months of a 23-month prison sentence. Pezze granted the request.
Just a week later, Mt. Pleasant police arrested Lowe about 10:30 p.m. Wednesday with a .38-caliber handgun loaded with hollow-point bullets, additional ammunition, four knives, illegal prescription pills and miscellaneous drug paraphernalia. He is being held in the county jail after failing to post $50,000 bond.
Lowe now faces a mandatory minimum sentence of at least five years in prison on the charge of a convicted felon possessing a loaded firearm.
Neiderhiser admitted feeling disappointed at Lowe's plea bargain agreement, “but that's the way our legal system works.”
“But I told (the prosecutor's office) that they'd see him again. I felt he'd probably shoot someone else someday,” Neiderhiser said.
“Thank goodness that policeman (Mt. Pleasant Assistant Police Chief Dan Zilli) just happened to go by there Wednesday and see Lowe, or he probably would have shot someone else,” Neiderhiser said.
Neiderhiser said she was frustrated about media reports that the 2011 shooting may have stemmed from an argument between Lowe and the Neiderhisers over Lowe's dog.
“That's simply not true. The Tall Cedars is really a neighborhood restaurant where most everyone knows everybody and nothing like that ever goes on there,” she said.
“We came outside around closing, and I think we startled him. It didn't come out because there was no trial, but (Lowe) was already getting out of his car and had a ski mask on ... now what do you think somebody carrying a firearm with a ski mask over his face when a bar is closing is doing?,” she asked.
State police at Greensburg said Lowe fired as many as 18 shots from two guns at a car occupied by Todd Neiderheiser of Mt. Pleasant, his wife, Rhonda, and their then 20-year-old daughter, Heidi, as they tried to flee. The Neiderhisers were not armed.
“I was worried he would shoot Heidi, too,” she said.
“State police also found a loaded assault rifle in Lowe's trunk afterward,” she added.
Neiderhiser's husband, Todd, was wounded twice in his arm, and Rhonda was struck in the leg.
“We're both still hurting. I still can't stretch my leg the whole way out, and I'll probably have to be in a wheelchair when I get older,” she said.
According to court records, Lowe maintained he shot at the Neiderheisers in self-defense during an argument with them.
Earlier this year, the Neiderheisers filed a civil lawsuit against Lowe seeking an unspecified amount in damages. That lawsuit is pending.
Lowe's attorney, Richard Galloway of Greensburg, said he did not know enough about Wednesday's arrest of Lowe at this point to comment.
Norvelt District Judge Roger Eckels ordered Lowe to the county jail after he failed to post $50,000 bond. A preliminary hearing is tentatively scheduled on June 20 before Eckels.
Paul Peirce is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org