6 injured in speakeasy shooting in Clairton
Queen Esther Ramseur said she has learned to take the good with the bad in Clairton.
“Bad things happen, but I'm not going to leave. It's too late for me to do that,” said Ramseur, 73, a lifelong city resident.
Ramseur saw both ends of the spectrum from her Miller Avenue apartment Friday.
Ramseur awoke to find the neighborhood crawling with police investigating a shooting at a speakeasy just a few doors down that left six people wounded — she slept through the gunfire. Later in the day, Clairton's high school football team rolled past her apartment after winning its 11th WPIAL championship at Heinz Field.
In between, city police dismantled the speakeasy, using a chainsaw and circular saw to cut its wooden bar into pieces. They removed numerous items — including plastic crates with dozens of liquor bottles, a large flat-screen television, chairs, coolers and space heaters — from inside the bloodstained establishment and hauled them off in a city Public Works pickup.
County real estate records list the building owner as Devlin L. Clifford, with his mailing address just around the corner on Mitchell Avenue. Police who answered the door at Clifford's home said he wasn't there.
Clairton Mayor Rich Lattanzi said city police had been investigating the unlicensed establishment.
“We were putting our evidence together to shut that establishment down. What happened (Friday) will speed up that process,” Lattanzi said.
Gunfire erupted shortly after a group of men in their 20s walked into the building about 3:30 a.m., police said. Investigators obtained surveillance video from the American Legion post up the street, which showed activity in the bar's parking lot.
“You can see people kind of scattering — getting in their cars and leaving,” said a steward at the American Legion who asked not to be identified. He said he began noticing cases of empty beer and liquor bottles piling up in a Dumpster outside the bar in recent weeks.
The establishment wasn't used only for after-hours parties. Ronda Payne, who lives near the club, said her granddaughter planned to hold her 16th birthday party there.
“We got to relocate,” said Payne, who heard gunshots and two cars speeding away. “Who's going to let their kids go there now?”
Allegheny County Police said investigators found three people with gunshot wounds at the bar, and three other men arrived at hospitals with injuries from the incident. Police have not released the victims' identities.
Lattanzi blamed the shootout on “out-of-towners” who learned of an after-hours party at the speakeasy via social media.
“The majority of the people that were shot weren't even from Clairton,” the mayor said.
None of the injuries is considered life-threatening, but two people were in serious condition, police said.
It was the latest fit of violence in the Mon Valley community of 6,800 people. Three years ago, Clairton police officer James Kuzak Jr. was paralyzed when he was shot five times as he responded to a report of a home invasion on Miller Avenue.
“It's messed up. We've got this good football team, and then people are doing dumb stuff. We've got these young kids in the community looking for (role models), and then people get drunk and shoot up the place,” said lifelong Clairton resident Willie Brown, 62, as he rode a light-rail train to the WPIAL championship game.
Outside Heinz Field, Clairton school board member Jennifer Williams, 63, added: “People say they're mad, but nobody seems to do anything. What can you do, really, except pray?”
Lattanzi said the city is working to establish a community anti-violence group. For nine years, it has held CommUnity Day to promote rebuilding efforts. Football games are a weekly rallying point during the fall, he said.
“It obviously dampens things a bit. We have some good things happening in Clairton; we're trying to turn a corner. But we still have a very small percentage of people who just aren't getting it,” he said.
Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7847 or email@example.com. Staff writers Eric Slagle and Bobby Kerlik contributed to this report.