Lackawanna County Homicides Jump: Eight Killings In 2018
Homicides in Lackawanna County nearly tripled last year, though authorities say 2018’s numbers are in line with what the county has seen in recent years.
There were eight homicides in 2018, compared to three in 2017. Despite the rise, last year’s homicide numbers aren’t abnormal and the numbers often fluctuate, said Lackawanna County Coroner Timothy Rowland. There were three homicides in 2017, though the office ruled on two additional cases prosecuted in other counties; 13 in 2016; and nine in 2015.
The number of criminal homicide and murder charges filed in county court also jumped last year compared to 2017, with six defendants facing charges stemming from three slayings in 2018. Three people face criminal homicide charges related to the death of Nina Gatto in April; two men face second-degree murder charges in
the death of Brett Sweeting Jr. in June, and another man is charged with criminal homicide after a crash killed Tammy Fox. Only one 2017 case resulted in homicide charges — Ryan Taylor, 26, was charged with killing Danee Mower, 28. That case remains pending in county court.
Just like 2017, last year’s homicide figures reflect a 100 percent murder and criminal homicide clearance rate — meaning each case was solved either by filing charges or “exceptional means,” such as the death of the offender. The rate is well above the 2016 national homicide clearance rate of 59.4 percent, determined by the FBI and the most recent national figures available.
Two people face vehicular homicide charges related to fatal crashes in 2018. There weren’t any vehicular homicides in Lackawanna County in 2017.
The increase in homicides from 2017 to 2018 doesn’t appear to be statistically significant, said Lackawanna County District Attorney Mark Powell, adding that numbers often fluctuate from year to year.
“I don’t see an alarming trend,” Powell said.
‘Out there unfinished’
There is one 2018 case that could be added to last year’s list of homicides.
Sister Angela Miller, I.H.M., has been missing since April and presumed murdered. She is not among the eight 2018 homicides because her body has not been recovered.
Miller’s sister, 72-year-old Rosemary Smith, was shot and killed by her son, Alan Smith, 49, at their Washburn Street home in West Scranton on April 28. He shot at police as they arrived to serve an emergency protection-from-abuse order and set fire to the building. He died of smoke inhalation and burns in the ensuing blaze.
Authorities believe Alan Smith killed Miller, his aunt, at the Washburn Street home and moved her body before police arrived. Miller and Rosemary Smith sought the PFA because Alan Smith threatened to kill his mother, along with her friends and neighbors. Miller described her nephew as a sociopath with “deep anger issues.”
That Miller has not been found still prevents the IHM sisters from finding closure, said Sister Ellen Maroney, I.H.M., president of the congregation.
“I think it’s still out there as unfinished, though we know in our faith that she is home with God,” Maroney said. “We continue to hope and pray that she’ll be found.”
In the months after the shooting and fire, hundreds of volunteers helped police scour several areas of Scranton to find Miller. The case will remain open until Miller’s remains are found, city police Chief Carl Graziano said. There have been no leads recently, he said.
While homicide numbers fluctuated in Lackawanna County, Luzerne County ended 2018 with 15 criminal homicides, a slight decrease from a year earlier, when 16 were reported.
There were five homicides in Wayne County last year, compared to two in 2017, and one in Susquehanna County in both 2018 and 2017. There were no homicides in Pike or Wyoming counties last year. In 2017, there were two homicides in Pike and six in Wyoming.
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Robert Ortiz, 20, died April 6 of multiple traumatic injuries after an early morning crash in the 1900 block of Pittston Avenue. Noah G. Cohen, 25, who was intoxicated when he struck Ortiz’s vehicle at a high rate of speed, pleaded guilty last month to vehicular homicide while driving under the influence. He awaits sentencing.
Nina Gatto, 24, died April 20. Investigators say three people, Melinda Palermo, 38, and Cornelius Mapson, 33, both of 25 Mitchell St., Pittston, and Kevin Weeks, 25, address unknown, conspired to kill her by injecting her with fentanyl and suffocating her, then making her death appear to be an accidental drug overdose. Gatto was a confidential informant with the Lackawanna County district attorney’s office and participated in a controlled buy that led to drug charges against Mapson. Her death led to revisions to the confidential informant policy used by the DA’s office. Palermo waived her preliminary hearing and is awaiting trial on homicide and related charges. Preliminary hearings for Mapson and Weeks are scheduled March 1.
Rosemary Smith, 72, died April 28 after suffering a gunshot wound to the head.
James Savero, 37, died June 6, days after suffering head trauma when he tried to break up a fight on Kressler Court during the early morning hours of June 3. Savero’s two companions ended up in a confrontation with Rickey Lloyd, 29, Kalvin Lloyd, 27, and Aashon Blackwell, 26, of Scranton. Savero tried to intervene when Rickey Lloyd hit him, knocking him to the ground and causing a head injury, police said. Rickey Lloyd faces involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault and related counts. Kalvin Lloyd and Blackwell are charged with aggravated assault and related counts.
Brett Sweeting Jr., 26, died June 25 of carbon monoxide poisoning after police said an arson-for-hire insurance fraud scheme went wrong. The plan was for Sweeting’s father, Brett Sweeting Sr., to drive Sweeting Jr. to a Roosevelt Street home owned by Chad Kenowski, then the younger Sweeting would set fire to the house and the pair would flee. However, Sweeting Jr. accidentally set off an explosion in the home as he poured gasoline inside and died while trapped inside. Sweeting Sr. left the scene without trying to help his son, police said. Kenowski, also known as Chad Clark, filed an insurance claim. Sweeting Sr., 53, of Williamsport, and Kenowski, 50, of Scranton, are charged with second-degree murder, arson and related charges.
Andrew Staretz, 81, was found dead Aug. 6, after being stabbed multiple times in his Taylor home. His son, William Staretz, 45, also was found dead in a wooded area in Scott Twp. Investigators ruled the case a murder-suicide, with William Staretz stabbing his father to death before taking his own life.
Tammy Fox, 38, died Aug. 22 of multiple traumatic injuries suffered when her car struck several parked cars and a tree near the intersection of Pine Street and North Washington Avenue. Fox was a key witness against several former Lackawanna County Prison guards accused of sexually abusing female inmates. State troopers arrested Fox’s boyfriend, John Jenkins, 40, of Scranton, on homicide and related charges after troopers found three of the brake lines on her car had been severed and a fourth one crimped. Jenkins told police Fox was looking for a pipe to smoke crack in, according to court documents. Jenkins told troopers he didn’t want to go to the store so he got underneath Fox’s vehicle at the Taylor Avenue address and was “hacking away” to get something she could use, troopers said. Jenkins is charged with criminal homicide.
Rebecca Blanco, 33, died Oct. 14 after a bus crash on Interstate 380 in Covington Twp. State troopers charged the driver, Charles Dixon, 50, of the Bronx, New York, with homicide by vehicle while DUI and related charges after a toxicology test yielded the presence of cocaine in Dixon’s blood.
Antoinette “Tonilynn” Wilkinson, 46, died Jan. 28. Police said Wilkinson’s longtime boyfriend, Joseph J. Marchetti Jr., shot and killed her and beat her mother, 72-year-old Barbara Wilkinson, unconscious at their Upper Lehigh home. Tonilynn Wilkinson died from a combination of blunt force head trauma and multiple gunshot wounds. Marchetti shot himself in the face in the living room, but survived. Marchetti, 52, is scheduled to stand trial in February on murder and attempted murder charges. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty in the case.
Trevor Oliver, 41, died Feb. 7. Police said Robert Rodriguez, 23, of Plymouth, and Isaiah “Glizzy” Jennings, 20, of Wilkes-Barre, entered Oliver’s Wilkes-Barre home to rob him of his drugs and cash. They opened fire, shooting both Oliver and his girlfriend, Ingrid Vanessa Batista, in the head. Batista survived the shooting. Rodriguez and Jennings are awaiting trial on murder and attempted murder charges.
Sandra Lee Montanari, 66, died March 16. Police say she was stabbed to death. Allen Montanari, 44, told police he and Eric S. Montanari Jr. — who was 17 — had been drinking at Eric’s home the night prior to the stabbing. When they went to the Market Street home where Allen lived with his mother, Sandra, Allen went to the bathroom and said he heard his mother yelling his name. He found Eric on top of her and pulled him off, leading to a fight that resulted in Allen being stabbed in the back, police said. Eric Montanari is charged as an adult with third-degree murder and aggravated assault.
Joey Lewis, 18, died March 21. Lewis was involved in a romantic relationship with the fiancee of James Andrew Cater and was sleeping on the couch of a Hanover Twp. residence when Cater came home after a night of drinking. Cater began arguing with his fiancee, Jennie Lloyd, about Lewis being at the apartment before stabbing Lewis with a kitchen knife, according to police. Cater, 31, is awaiting trial on murder charges.
Cindy Lou Ashton, 39, died May 1 or 2. Police allege Ashton’s estranged boyfriend, Anthony Dion Shaw, 42, of East Orange, New Jersey, brutally stabbed her in the throat during a breakup. Shaw fled the state and cut and stabbed himself in a failed suicide attempt the day after Ashton’s body was found in a pool of blood in the bathroom of her Wilkes-Barre Twp. apartment, according to police. Shaw is awaiting trial on murder charges.
Anthony Bonney, 17, died June 18. Police said Bonney and another man passed off drywall shavings and baking soda as cocaine during a drug deal at Freeland Public Park. The buyer, Brandon Gambardella of West Hazleton, shot Bonney in the back of the head, according to police. Gambardella, 19, is awaiting trial on murder charges.
Devon “JP Johnny” Stevens, 32, died July 4. Police said Stevens, a convicted drug dealer, was shot in the body multiple times during a dispute with one or more people who were inside a vehicle in the area of Building 308 at Sherman Hills Apartments in Wilkes-Barre. Medics took Stevens to Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center in Plains Twp., where he died. His death remains unsolved.
Collin Jones, 26, died July 19. Police said Jones had been involved in a fight at the Ali Baba Liquor Lounge in Wilkes-Barre prior to being shot in the head while driving away from the bar. His death remains unsolved.
William Denman, 64, died July 23. Police said Ulysses Edward Denman, 21, shot his father in the head as he slept on a couch at a Larksville home because he was concerned his father would hurt his mother because of perceived infidelity. Ulysses Denman told police his father survived the first .22-caliber gunshot and told him to shoot him a second time, then run away, according to the charges. Ulysses Denman is awaiting trial on murder charges.
Linda Frick, 56, died Aug. 4. Police responded to Dana Ganjeh’s Kingston home — the site of “numerous past incidents” of domestic violence — and found Frick’s bruised and beaten body under a blanket in the reclined front passenger seat of an SUV. Ganjeh claimed Frick had been feeling ill and that she died while they were driving around, according to court documents. Ganjeh is awaiting trial on murder charges.
Valerie Elaine Arangio, 47, died Aug. 25 or 26. Police said Daniel J. Arangio, 58, hit his wife in the head with an ax before killing himself via a self-inflicted stab wound. Valerie Arangio’s body was found in a bedroom of the couple’s Harding home, while Daniel Arangio was discovered dead in a bathroom, police said.
Fred Boote Jr., 58, died Sept. 14. According to police, the 14-year-old daughter of Boote’s ex-girlfriend got him to let her inside, and she left the door unlocked for Reynaldo Mercado, 31. Mercado then bashed Boote over the head with a lamp and stabbed him to death with a kitchen knife that the girl handed him, police said. When Boote was dead, the pair doused him with gasoline in an attempt to destroy evidence, although the fire went out before police arrived on scene, according to police. They stole Boote’s cellphone and about $25 in cash during the robbery, police said. Mercado is charged with first-degree murder, robbery and other offenses. The teen is charged with second-degree murder, robbery and other offenses.
Tierees Owens, 33, died Sept. 27. According to police, Owens — a reputed member of the Crips street gang — and an unknown group of his associates had been causing trouble at Robby Nick’s Sports Bar in Plymouth leading up to the deadly confrontation. Moments before the shooting, the bar owner was escorting Owens away from the premises, but Owens broke out of his grasp and ran back toward Kyon Dane McDonald, 35, of Plymouth. Police say McDonald fired one shot and paused before emptying the rest of the clip into Owens. McDonald is awaiting trial on murder charges.
Jacob Shedlock, 18, died Nov. 23. Police said Kahzmeek A. Prater, 18, was handling a Smith & Wesson pistol and smoking a marijuana blunt inside a Wilkes-Barre home when the gun went off unexpectedly, hitting Shedlock in the chest. Shedlock was taken to Wilkes-Barre General Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Prater has described the shooting as accidental. Prater is charged with involuntary manslaughter, drug trafficking, tampering with evidence and making a false report.
Sandra L. Martin, 74, died Dec. 5. Authorities say Martin’s husband, Anthony M. Martin, 81, fatally shot her before turning the gun on himself in a murder-suicide at their Swoyersville home.
John Amrein, 52, died Sept. 3. Two people, Quentin Millard, 23, of New Milford, and Andrea Martel, 21, of Hallstead, are charged with criminal homicide and abuse of corpse related to his death. Millard told investigators Amrein arrived at Martel’s home on Madison Circle in Great Bend Twp. on Sept. 3, and the two men engaged in a physical altercation at the door. Millard is accused of shooting at Amrein, then striking him with a machete. Millard and Martel then cleaned the residence and disposed of Amrein’s body and vehicle later that day, troopers said. Amrein’s body was located hidden in woods on Sept. 5. Martel and Millard are held without bail as they await trial.
James Sorrentino, 36, Prompton, died June 25 after state troopers shot and killed him after a five-hour standoff at his home. Wayne County District Attorney Patrick Robinson later ruled the shooting as justified. Troopers responded to Sorrentino’s home on 40 Balsam Road after he threatened his mother and brother, then fired a shotgun at them. Sorrentino had been hospitalized for bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Troopers tried to negotiate with Sorrentino as he threw items from the house, screamed obscenities and walked around carrying weapons. The standoff ended when Sorrentino fired a rifle at police and troopers returned fire.
Carrie Mar-tini, 45, and Dale Thomas, 61, Salem Twp., died June 26 when Martini’s ex-boyfriend, William Rowen, 60, shot them at her home, then turned the gun on himself. He died of a shotgun wound to the head.
Carol Vaverchak, 67, of Mount Pleasant Twp. was found dead in her home Sept. 11 with her husband, Alban, 73. Investigators said Alban Vaverchak shot his wife and then himself.
Suzette Bullis, 51, of Preston Twp., suffered a gunshot wound to the head. State troopers found her dead in her home Dec. 19. Police are investigating the death; they recovered a handgun and have a “person of interest” in mind.