ShareThis Page
News

Abducted woman dies, child saved

| Monday, April 19, 2004, 12:00 p.m.

A Sheraden woman was shot to death Sunday on a turnpike exit ramp after her ex-lover opened fire at a church service, abducted her and their infant daughter and led police on a 50-mile chase.

Andrea Umphrey, 35, a mother of three, was pronounced dead shortly after 4 p.m. at Mercy Hospital, Uptown -- about 2 1/2 hours after the chase began near the Victorious Faith Evangelical Outreach church in Sheraden.

Umphrey's ex-boyfriend, Alvin Starks, 30, was taken to UPMC Presbyterian hospital, Oakland, with a gunshot wound to his right arm, police said. University of Pittsburgh Medical Center officials said they did not have a record of him being there, and he had not been arraigned as of late last night. Court records show several different addresses for Starks in the Pittsburgh area.

The couple's daughter, Aaliyah, 9 months, was unharmed and taken into the custody of the Allegheny County office of Children, Youth and Families.

Umphrey's death marked the end of a tumultuous and abusive relationship with Starks. She took out two protection-from-abuse orders against him, writing that he hit her and threatened to kill her.

"I am afraid for me and my children," she wrote Feb. 12 in her second petition for protection from the court.

Still, in the eruption of gunfire on a jammed Pennsylvania Turnpike exit in Monroeville, it was unclear who fired the shot that killed her.

"It was like in slow motion," said Sondra Dugan, 61, a witness to the final events. "I thought, 'Is this really happening• This isn't really happening.'"

Shots in the sanctuary

Joyce Owens, one of four pastors at the Bergman Street church in Sheraden, was in mid-sermon when Starks burst in between 1:30 and 1:45 p.m., shouting at Umphrey.

"He was hitting her with the gun," said Shirley Brown, another pastor.

Brown ducked into the church's office and called the police.

"That's when I heard the shot," she said.

Starks fired twice. Witnesses said Starks was aiming for Owens but grazed her son Robert in the shoulder before the bullet lodged in the wall.

"It's a bit rough for me," Joyce Owens said, declining to comment further.

Lamont Crankfield watched as terrified congregants spilled onto Bergman Street moments after he heard the gunshots.

Among the crowd, Alvin Starks and Andrea Umphrey, her infant daughter in her arms, rushed toward a maroon Chevy Venture.

"I thought he was just comforting her," said Crankfield, 29, of Sheraden. "Then I saw the gun."

Starks held Umphrey and the infant in a minivan at the corner of Bergman and Sherwood as police gathered.

By the time police arrived, Starks had Umphrey in the vehicle with a gun to her head. Aaliyah was out of sight. Starks soon led police on a high-speed chase that lasted nearly an hour and stretched from Sheraden to New Stanton, Westmoreland County, and back to Monroeville.

'Get down!'

Police used a megaphone in an attempt to negotiate with Starks for about a half hour as he sat in the parked minivan at the corner of Sherwood Boulevard and Bergman Street.

All the while, Starks shouted that he just wanted to talk to Umphrey, who had filed the first in a series of protection-from-abuse orders against him in October.

Police -- hidden behind vans, houses and hedges -- sealed off a block in each direction from the minivan. Neighbors gathered at the perimeter and chatted about the simmering situation.

Suddenly, on the corner of Hammond Street and Bergman Street, they heard the revving of an engine. "Get back!" screamed a Pittsburgh police officer standing behind a red and grey-striped van.

"Get down!" yelled one man as a woman holding a child in her arms sprinted down a nearby alley.

As people on the corner scattered, the Chevy Venture careened past, whipping around a police car blocking the road. The officer, his gun drawn, yelled for Starks to stop.

The van kept going.

Two-county chase

Starks zipped the van around a cruiser at Bergman Street and Hammond Avenue, hitting Route 51 and then the Fort Pitt Bridge.

The chase continued onto Interstate 376, then through Squirrel Hill and Wilkinsburg before returning to the Parkway East and then onto the turnpike in Monroeville.

Police threw stop sticks -- strings of metal spikes that unfold accordion-style and are designed to puncture a car's tires -- across the road near the turnpike's New Stanton exit.

About 4 miles past the Irwin exit, Starks jacked the minivan through an emergency U-turn and barreled through the westbound lanes back toward Monroeville, with dozens of police cruisers in pursuit.

Figuring he would return to familiar territory, police threw out another set of stop-sticks at the Monroeville exit. Starks swerved around the device, said state police Trooper Robin Mungo.

'A wall of police'

It was just a routine shopping trip for Dugan; her daughter, Kimberly Bartko, 41; and granddaughter Legacy Tanney, 13, until they saw the helicopters and watched as the lights in each toll booth turned from green to red at the Monroeville exit.

"It was like the movies," Bartko said. "There were so many choppers in air. I had never seen anything like it before."

Hearing the noise of a police scanner coming from a pick up truck next to her daughter's red Chrysler Sebring, Dugan asked the driver if he knew what was happening.

That's when the maroon minivan careened past Bartko's convertible, scraping its bumper and rear-ending the car in front of it with enough force to shove it into another car.

As soon as that happened, "I saw a wall of police officers with guns running toward us," she said. "I never saw so many police officers. It was a wall of police."

Dugan said Starks threw the van into reverse, but a police car had blocked its exit. The minivan was about 4 feet from Dugan and her family.

Then the gunshots rang out.

"They came up, some of them got on the hood of the car and shot in the (minivan)," Dugan said. "We had the top down on the convertible. My 13-year-old granddaughter and my daughter were both screaming."

Bartko grabbed her daughter and forced her to the car's floor.

Umphrey was hit in the abdomen. Police were not ready to say whether the bullet came from Starks' 9 mm pistol.

Starks was shot in his right arm. A bullet was lodged in the passenger-side sliding door of the minivan. At least one of the shell casings was from a 9 mm weapon.

Mungo said police recovered two shell casings. The three people trapped in the Sebring said it sounded like more than two shots were fired.

After the shots stopped, police rushed the minivan, pulling Umphrey and the baby free and arresting Starks.

"There was a lot of blood," Dugan said.

In addition to Aaliyah, Umphrey is survived by two sons, Andre, 10, Andrew, 7. Starks is not the boys' father.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me