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Vet shot by police had sought help

| Thursday, Sept. 2, 2010

A man police shot to death during a confrontation in Baldwin Borough sought psychiatric treatment at the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System on Highland Drive before reportedly becoming suicidal, police said.

A Baldwin police officer shot Edward Zevola Sr., 61, at his home Tuesday night on Songo Street, a quiet hilltop enclave of two-story homes and swimming pools above Streets Run Road.

Police said Zevola's wife called them about 9 p.m. to say the two argued and Zevola threatened her with a gun. She told police she feared he was suicidal or willing to kill someone.

When Officer Kim Reising arrived, Zevola was sitting in a chair on the front patio with a rifle, said Baldwin police Chief Michael Scott.

"He said, 'I'm a Vietnam veteran. I have seven rounds. I won't shoot for your Kevlar (bulletproof vest). I'll shoot for your head,' " Scott said.

For about five minutes, Reising tried to calm Zevola and to get him to drop the weapon. Another officer approaching through nearby woods saw him raise his rifle and point it toward Reising. The officer fired a single shot that struck Zevola, who died at the scene.

The male officer, whom Scott would not identify, is a seven-year veteran of the force. He was placed on paid leave while Allegheny County homicide detectives investigate the shooting.

Scott said Zevola was in and out of psychiatric treatment at the VA hospital for the past year.

"The only thing I want to say is that this is a tragedy, ... the worst day of all our lives," said a woman who identified herself as Zevola's daughter-in-law, while carrying a suitcase out of his home Wednesday afternoon. "This is horrific, and we want to keep this as private as possible."

Neighbor Don Stanis, 54, said Zevola was friendly, and they sometimes chatted about a shared love of hunting.

"Every time I went past and he'd be there, he'd wave, say, 'Hey, how you doing• Have you been hunting lately?' " Stanis said, adding that Zevola for years carpooled with his father to work at the North Side post office. "I've known lots of Vietnam veterans, but they were fine."

Tony Accamando Jr., a Vietnam War veteran and founder of the humanitarian aid group Friends of Da Nang, said he was upset that people immediately associated Zevola's act with his military service.

"It's annoying that Vietnam vets have been singled out and portrayed as crazed Rambo types," he said. "There were probably other factors going beyond his being a vet."

Zevola had no criminal record, though civil court records show liens for back taxes he owed Allegheny County, the borough and school district. Stanis said he thought Zevola was diagnosed with cancer but handling it well.

"I'd be surprised if this were connected to post-traumatic stress," said Dave McPeak, a veteran who counsels others at the Vets Center in Green Tree. "After 40 years, it's not what Vietnam vets do."

Fran Spirko, a Green Tree resident and former veterans advocate, said she thinks someone should have called the VA to send a negotiator or an adviser to police.

"If they knew he was suicidal ... if they knew he was a vet, knew he was being treated up at Highland Drive, why didn't they call the VA?" asked Spirko, 56, who is married to a Vietnam War veteran.

Police called a negotiator and the South Hills Council of Governments' Community Emergency Response Team, but "the situation escalated pretty fast," Scott said.

"(The officer) protected her life and the lives of the other officers. He wasn't given a choice," said Baldwin Mayor Alexander Bennett.

The borough's last police shooting involved Reising. In 2000, a man at a Pleasant Hills gas station came up behind her and grabbed her service weapon, so she drew and fired a second weapon, killing him, Bennett said. Authorities determined she acted appropriately.

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