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Fed up, Jeannette residents vow to take back the streets

| Friday, Jan. 3, 2014, 8:25 a.m.

Drug dealers openly sell heroin day and night in one Jeannette neighborhood, according to a resident whose home was riddled with gunfire the day before Thanksgiving.

Eugene Smorey, whose North First Street home was hit during a drive-by shooting last month, told city council recently that drug dealers wave wads of cash and call “Yo, yo, yo!” to passing motorists to hail potential buyers. Dealers have tried to sell drugs to him when he arrives home from work, he said.

In response to drug activity and related crime in the city, resident Chad Fetty plans to stage an anti-violence rally on Sunday in front of city hall.

“This is our city. These are our streets,” Fetty said. “I'll do anything to make it right. I hope everybody in the city comes down and floods the block. Let's do something right for one day.”

Fetty will organize the march in front of city hall, and the group will walk down Clay Avenue to the Keynote Cafe.

“The violence stops now, and we take back our streets,” he said.

Former Mayor Robert Carter, who left office on Dec. 31, said police are stymied by witnesses who are reluctant to testify in drug-related shootings.

In November, five suspects in an attempted homicide and robbery were released after two men living on South Seventh Street — one had been shot in the shoulder — refused to testify against them.

“It's like a revolving door,” Carter said. “We've asked citizens to call 911 (when they see criminal activity).”

But with only two officers working a shift in the cash-strapped city, it's difficult for police to respond in time to see a drug deal happening, he said.

After Smorey's home and several others were struck by bullets in the drive-by along North First Street, police arrested Dionne Lee “Menace” McKelvin eight minutes later on charges of shooting a woman in the arm and chest.

On Nov. 10, two suspected drug addicts were nabbed by city police shortly after they broke into a woman's home on North Third Street, threatened her with a gun and stole $5,000 worth of jewelry and gold coins.

On Oct. 26, police said, a Jeannette man tried to shoot an adversary during an argument but apparently failed to disengage a safety mechanism.

Police Chief Brad Shepler said the recent surge of violent crimes is not because of random acts.

It comes at a time when city officials are considering how large a force the town can afford.

Earlier this month, a consultant told council that in terms of population, the size of the force could range from nine officers to as many as 22, although the city can't afford the higher number because of its financial problems. The police department budget is nearing $1 million, and overtime could exceed $100,000 this year, according to budget records.

“Your police force is doing a very, very good job as far as (case) closures,” said Kerry Moyer of the Civic Research Alliance in Mechanicsburg.

Richard Gazarik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6292 or at rgazarik@tribweb.com.

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