Hearing witnesses recount bloody scene inside North Belle Vernon bar where 3 stabbed
Multiple people Monday recounted a gruesome scene inside a North Belle Vernon bar early March 7 when a Washington County man is accused of stabbing three people.
Christopher Chambers, one of the stabbing victims at Just A Tavern on Broad Avenue, told District Judge Charles Christner of Rostraver it took 79 stitches to close knife wounds to his neck, face and chest — even though he didn’t initially realize he was injured. He told Christner his attention was focused to stemming the severe bleeding from his girlfriend, Elsie Lenzi, whose femoral artery on her right thigh was slashed.
“I didn’t even know I was cut until someone was trying to treat the injuries to my neck as I was working on my girlfriend. She was trying to apply pressure (to her wound) using her hand, but every time her heart would beat, blood would squirt all over the place between her fingers,” Chambers said. “It was so slippery from the blood on the floor, it was like ice.”
Based on the preliminary hearing testimony of Chambers, Lenzi and two other witnesses, Eric D. Cook, 43, of Donora, was ordered to stand trial on three counts of attempted homicide and simple assault and four counts of aggravated assault.
Lenzi testified she knew Cook as a classmate at Ringgold High School and had just introduced him to Chambers and another friend, James Lookabaugh, during a chance meeting at the bar after midnight. Lenzi, Chambers and Lookabaugh all work in the natural gas industry.
“Eric said that he was a felon and had just been released from prison. (Lookabaugh) replied, as a joke, that (Cook) shouldn’t put that on his resume,” Lenzi said. “You could tell Eric was irritated, and he started digging around in his pocket. He pulled something out, and then Chris pushed him away.”
An emotional Lenzi, who worked 17 years as a nurse in the Mon Valley before going to work in the gas industry, said she did not initially know she had been stabbed by Cook, “whose arms were flailing.” But she saw a large pool of blood on the floor at her feet and then noticed a warm feeling running down her leg.
“Chris had blood on his shirt, face, arm … everywhere. When it started, I just saw something shiny and thought, Eric, ‘What are you doing?’” Lenzi said.
Lenzi said she fell in and out of consciousness and remembered being placed in an ambulance, “waking up in a helicopter to take me to Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh.”
“I remember waking up in the helicopter and the nurse there was putting his full body weight on my wound. They took me into emergency surgery and told me I lost four pints of blood,” she said.
Chambers said he used his belt to make a tourniquet for Lenzi’s leg.
County Detective Randall Gardner testified when he walked into the bar he was taken aback by the amount of blood.
“It looked like someone mopped the place using blood,” he said.
Gardner said Lookabaugh, who lives in Texas, couldn’t make it to Monday’s hearing but will testify at trial. He said Lookabaugh didn’t realize he had been injured until he got back to his hotel in Rostraver and “felt his boot squishing from the blood.”
“He was stabbed in his side and chest. There was a 3-inch knife wound in his chest and he was treated at AHN Forbes Hospital in Monroeville,” Gardner said.
Chambers was airlifted to Allegheny General Hospital.
Another witness, Shelley McGavitt, said she and her boyfriend stopped in the bar after working in a Scottdale restaurant.She said Cook approached her at the bar.
“He showed me his knife. I told him to put that away… that everybody was there to have a good time,” McGavitt said.
McGavitt said prior to the altercation, Cook bought six raffle tickets her boyfriend was selling for the North Belle Vernon Fire Department.
Cook wrote his name and phone number on the stubs, which assisted investigators in identifying him after the stabbing, according to court documents.
Cook pleaded not guilty and his private attorney, David Regoli, asked for a bond reduction. District Judge Chris Flanigan, who arraigned Cook, did not set bail, saying he was “a danger to the community.”
Flanigan said that in 2011, Cook pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh to distributing more than 50 grams of crack cocaine. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison in that case, according to court records.
Cook told Christner he was released from prison in that case in December 2017, but was still on four years of court supervision.
Christner remanded Cook to the county prison on $500,000 bail.
Paul Peirce is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Paul at 724-850-2860, [email protected] or via Twitter .