Wisconsin man accused of driving to Vandergrift to meet with minor, police say

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A Wisconsin man is facing charges in Westmoreland County after police say he drove to Vandergrift to meet with a minor.

Ethan William Haley, 22, was arrested Monday after Vandergrift police found him with a teenage boy, whom Haley told police he had driven from Wisconsin to meet, according to a criminal complaint.

Haley was driving along Washington Avenue about 12:20 a.m. when he was pulled over for not having his headlights on, police said. Officers said they saw two people in the car, one a minor.

When asked for identification, Haley presented a Minnesota driver’s license and told police he was in the area meeting friends, according to the complaint.

According to police, Haley said the boy did not have identification.

The officer then walked over to the passenger side to speak with the boy, who was observed not wearing any shoes and “was very nervous and seemed to be unsure” what to tell police, officials said. After the boy gave his age and address, an officer went to speak with his parents, who said they were not aware the boy had left the house.

Haley, who told police he knew the boy through the social media app Snapchat, was then detained so officers could figure out the situation, according to the complaint. At that point, Haley told police he had recently gotten off probation for sex offenses in Minnesota, officials said.

During an interview with police, the boy said he had known Haley for about a year, and that he started talking to Haley because he needed a friend, officials said. According to the complaint, the boy said Haley often steered the conversations toward sexual topics and sent him nude photos.

The boy told police he provided Haley with his phone number and address, and jumped from his window to get into Haley’s car when Haley came to meet him.

The boy said that, before being pulled over by police, had a bad feeling and Haley was a little “handsy,” according to the complaint.

Haley confirmed the two had had explicit conversations but said he did not remember sending photos. He told police he was traveling to South Carolina to meet with a friend when he detoured to Vandergrift to tell the boy “they cannot have a sexual relationship,” the complaint reads.

Haley is charged with unlawful contact with a minor and disseminating explicit sexual material to a minor, court records show.

He is being held in the Westmoreland County Prison after being unable to post $100,000 bond, according to court records. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for April 6.

Megan Tomasic is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 724-850-1203, 

Vandergrift officer injured trying to subdue domestic abuse suspect

posted Aug 4, 2020, 3:25 PM by Joseph Gray

Allegheny Township Police say at least one officer was injured Friday evening during the arrest of a man on suspicion of domestic violence.

According to police, officers responded to a domestic violence call along Hancock Avenue around 9 p.m. Friday. There, police say, a woman told them she was assaulted by James Rimmel, 57. Rimmel was gone when police arrived, they said.

The woman, however, had an injury to her leg and said she hit her head when Rimmel threw her over a railing, according to police.

Officers reached Rimmel by phone, but said he was not cooperative. Rimmel returned to the residence around 10:30 p.m., prompting police to be called back, according to the police report.

A Vandergrift officer suffered an injury to his ankle when, police say, Rimmel “rushed” him and he fell from a porch. Police say Rimmel also rushed a second officer and the two fell off the porch into a yard, where Rimmel continued to resist arrest.

Allegheny Township police Chief Duane Fisher said one officer used a Taser on Rimmel but it had no effect.

According to Fisher, sheer numbers overwhelmed Rimmel when Allegheny Township officers arrived to back up Vandergrift police. In all, it took five officers to subdue Rimmel.

At least one Allegheny Township officer was struck in the head as he tried to restrain Rimmel, Fisher said.

Once handcuffed, police said they rolled Rimmel onto his back and discovered he had a fully loaded handgun tucked into his waistband. A police report said the gun had a live round in the chamber.

The officer who sustained an ankle injury was taken to Allegheny Valley Hospital for treatment. Rimmel refused EMS treatment for being Tasered, but later requested EMS for a bruise on his calf area. He was evaluated and cleared from Allegheny Valley Hospital early Saturday.

Fisher said Rimmel will be charged with “numerous” counts of aggravated assault for his struggle with police, in addition to the original domestic dispute charges.

“The significance is that he had a handgun on him,” Fisher said. “The officers tried to talk to him in regards to the initial domestic via telephone. … He had made it clear he was willing to fight the police.

“He escalated the situation to a point where officers got injured, after he had injured someone he supposedly cares about,” Fisher said.

Teghan Simonton is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Teghan at 724-226-4680, or via Twitter .

Vandergrift braced for unrest, but protest remained peaceful

posted Jun 4, 2020, 11:34 PM by Joseph Gray

Police, residents and business owners in Vandergrift braced for unrest that never materialized.

A Black Lives Matter protest scheduled for Thursday had some in the borough of about 5,200 people on edge — despite the fact that the protest had formally been canceled after one of the organizers became the target of threats.

Still, many people said online they would show up anyway. Businesses in town took that to heart.

Several shops boarded up their windows and doors in preparation for a demonstration they feared could turn violent. Roadblocks were established, and state police and neighboring local departments were called in to provide assistance. Some residents said they saw as many as 50 police cars stationed around town.

And a small group of veterans stood guard at the Vandergrift Military Memorial, worried rioters would vandalize it. A few of the veterans were armed.

“I don’t mind the protesting,” said veteran Bob Serena, 68, of Vandergrift, who stood guard with his brother, Dan. “But I’ve seen them destroy too many monuments in cities where they protest, and they’re not destroying this one.”

It was all for naught.

By late Thursday afternoon, only about 30 protesters had arrived outside the Casino Theater.

Bearing posters, signs and an American flag, the protesters stood peacefully and chanted phrases like “black lives matter,” “no justice, no peace” and “I can’t breathe.” The latter phrase was uttered by George Floyd, who died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes on Memorial Day, setting off protests across the country.

Vandergrift police officers meandered through the group of protesters, socializing with the activists. The day was overwhelmingly mellow.

Several business owners said they supported the peaceful demonstration, but felt the need to take precautions in case the protest escalated to rioting as protests have elsewhere, including Pittsburgh.

“We’ve seen what can happen,” said Eric Mikula, co-owner of Sweetlane Chocolate Shop on Grant Avenue. “It’s the potential for rioting.”

Mikula closed his store Thursday morning before the protest began. He boarded the windows with inch-thick plywood, reinforced with two-by-fours. He said he also planned to board up the windows of his home, a block away from the theater.

Some people said they feared “outside people” coming into Vandergrift to cause trouble. On social media, rumors circulated that the protest would draw agitators from the Ku Klux Klan and the anti-fascist Antifa movement, which President Trump said he would designate as a domestic terror group.

“It only takes one bad egg,” said Gert Keddie, owner of Keddie Chevrolet on Lincoln Street.

The car dealership moved all cars off its lot to another location, Keddie said. They spent all of Wednesday clearing out all the computers and taking anything of value out of the building, including credit card machines, vehicle titles and other important documents.

The precautions came as Westmoreland County prepared to enter the green phase of Gov. Tom Wolf’s reopening plan on Friday. Keddie had been planning to reopen the dealership for normal operations for the first time since mid-March. But fearing riots and looting, she said the dealership won’t reopen until Monday.

Marilee Kessler, a Vandergrift resident and organization chair for the Vandergrift Improvement Program, said the situation in town is a result of “misunderstanding and mistrust.” Kessler said she understands the apprehension from business owners after reading comments online from people threatening to riot.

“This is something serious that needs to be said,” she said. “But unfortunately the people who wanted to have something quiet and nice and respectful were hijacked.”

Vandergrift police Chief Joe Caporali said he thinks there could be a larger gathering over the weekend but, after such a mellow event on Thursday, there is little concern about mayhem. He said he was more uneasy about how an incoming heat wave could harm activists standing in the sun for hours.

Cicily Bailey, 19, one of the original organizers of the protest, did not attend Thursday’s event. She formally canceled the event after receiving harsh backlash and threatening messages.

“I’m keeping my word,” she said. “I’m not going down there.”

Teghan Simonton is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Teghan at 724-226-4680, or via Twitter .

Vandergrift man accused of hitting girlfriend with hammer during argument

posted Jan 21, 2020, 3:36 PM by Joseph Gray

Westmoreland County Prison
Thomas Andrew Funkhouser

A Vandergrift man accused of hitting his live-in girlfriend in the head with a hammer allegedly told police he only “nicked her.”

Police said Thomas Andrew Funkhouser, 34, had fresh blood on his hands when officers arrived at a Grant Street apartment at about 12:30 a.m. last Thursday.

His girlfriend, police said, had a “large mark” on the middle of her forehead, including a “one-inch laceration that was bleeding.”

The woman, police said, told them Funkhouser accused her of cheating on him, a complaint she said he often makes.

According to police, the woman told them Funkhouser grabbed the hammer and said, “You better tell me now whether you did or not or I’m gonna end you now.”

Funkhouser is charged with aggravated and simple assault, making terroristic threats, harassment and domestic violence.

A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Jan. 28.

Chuck Biedka

Chuck Biedka  
TribLIVE's Daily and Weekly

Christmas 2019

posted Jan 9, 2020, 8:39 PM by Joseph Gray

Once again it has been a blessed Christmas season. The Vandergrift Police Department were able to provide four families with Christmas dinners and Christmas gifts under the tree for some very deserving children.


In addition to the Adopt-a-family program the police department along with the help of Kiski Area East Primary Principle Marchand were able to give the school 500 pairs of new socks for students. 


On December 22nd a donor came into the police station with a monetary gift and it was explained that the gifts and meals had already been bought and given away, and there was no need for the money at this time. The generous donor still insisted on giving the money for helping the community in the future. December 23rd Officers were dispatched to the area of the railroad tracks in East Vandergrift, where officers found a young man from out of state walking along the tracks, waiting on relatives from Texas to come to Pennsylvania to pick him up the next day, Christmas Eve. Officers tried repeatedly to reach out to different groups to get a meal and a place for the young man to stay for the night with negative results. In addition to being hungry and not having a place to stay. The Males shoes were falling off of his feet due to poor condition. One of the officers on scene made a call and was able to gain access to the money that had been given the day before by the generous donor. The Officer then made arrangements with a local motel to put him up for the night and also provided him a meal. The officer then went to the Dollar General and bought him a pair of boots so he would have something decent to walk in.   


“We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.”


Fred Rogers


Thank you to the following generous businesses, organizations, families and anonymous donors.


J.V. Rigging Inc.

Beneficial & Brotherly Love Society

First Catholic Slovak Ladies Assoc. J126

HeadLine Hair Salon

1st Baptist Church Vandergrift

1st United Methodist Church Vandergrift

Dunmire – Kerr & Rowe Funeral Home, Inc

Council President Kathy Chvala & Family

Councilman Lenny Collini & Family

G n G Restaurant

Tees n Tops

A.J.’s Restaurant

Brenda Gray & Kelly Gray

Linda Toy

Emily Saxion & Family

Denise Lewandowski – George & Family

David and Marilee Kessler & Family

Bill & Marie Knotaitis

Diane Larrieu

Theresa Geltz & Family

Debbie Spiher & Family

Chris and Ashleigh & Family

Supansic Family


Thank you once again for your generosity in making the world a better place. Have a healthy and safe 2020


From the Vandergrift Police Department…


Vandergrift Community Watch provides Thanksgiving dinner to 40 families

posted Nov 29, 2019, 8:09 AM by Joseph Gray

Vandergrift police Officer Joe Gray and former councilman Brian Carricato fill boxes with turkey dinners for needy families in 2016.

Forty families in Vandergrift will have a traditional Thanksgiving dinner this week thanks to the town’s Community Watch and donations from community establishments.

The Vandergrift Community Watch organized Thanksgiving packages for the families, complete with turkeys, potatoes, vegetables and more.

In the four years his group has been putting on this event, Vandergrift police Officer Joe Gray said this is the largest number of families it’s been able to feed.

Gray, leader of the watch group and coordinator of the Thanksgiving packages, said this project is an opportunity to go beyond the everyday duties of a police officer.

“Part of policing is caring about your community and helping your community flourish,” Gray said.

The group began gathering supplies in September.

Donations of food, canned goods and money came from St. Vincent DePaul Society, students at North Primary School, Vandergrift First Baptist Church and several local establishments. Gray said organizing was helped by his family, Vandergrift Mayor Barb Turiak, Councilwoman Kathy Chvala and many Vandergrift police officers.

The 40 turkeys were donated by Jones Turkey Farm in the Cabot section of Winfield.

David C. Jones, the turkey farm owner, said he’s given every year to the Community Watch’s cause. He also donates turkeys to local churches during the holidays, and when customers come to the farm short on money, he said he will often give them a turkey anyway.

The large turkey donation is really what allowed the Community Watch to arrange so many packages, Gray said.

Four years ago, Gray said the group made packages for only five families. The next year, they made 20 packages; the year after that, they made 35. He is hopeful that the program can continue to grow.

“We’re grateful for all we get,” Gray said. “People are very, very receptive to it, so we’re hopeful.”

Gray worked with school resource officers in the Kiski Area School District to identify families in need. Gray said most of the families receiving packages this year had no idea they would get one.

The Thanksgiving care packages are just one of the holiday care packages Gray organizes.

The Vandergrift Police Department also runs an “Adopt-a-Family” program for the Christmas season to provide a meal and gifts for a local family. Gray said this year’s family has already been “adopted.”

The department is accepting donations of money, food and toys.

Marilee Kessler, a regular participant of the Community Watch, was proud to see the town’s police force give their time and resources for a charitable cause.

“It’s just really nice to see that our police department is so very involved in the community and show that they’re here to support the community,” Kessler said.

Teghan Simonton is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Teghan at 724-226-4680,

Vandergrift man jailed on drug possession charges

posted Nov 20, 2019, 9:17 PM by Joseph Gray   [ updated Nov 20, 2019, 9:18 PM ]

A Vandergrift man who police say attempted to flee from authorities was arrested Tuesday afternoon on charges of having suspected heroin and other narcotics.

Jerry Moore, 61, of Custer Avenue was charged with possession of drug paraphernalia, driving with a suspended license, two counts of possession of controlled substances and two counts of possession with intent to deliver.

Vandergrift police Officer Nate Rigatti said he, Westmoreland County Detective John Clark and state parole agent Patty Joe Misho were going to Moore’s house to serve a search warrant just after 4 p.m. Tuesday when they spotted him driving in a nearby alley.

Rigatti said they knew Moore’s driver’s license was suspended due to previous incidents and they pulled him over. Moore attempted to run but was quickly subdued, according to Rigatti.

Investigators say Moore was carrying suspected heroin. In his house, they say they recovered suspected methamphetamine, about 190 packets of suspected heroin and $385 in cash.

Moore was arraigned by District Judge Cheryl Peck Yakopec. His preliminary hearing is set for Nov. 26.

He was jailed in the Westmoreland County Prison on Tuesday, unable to post $30,000 bond, according to online court documents.

Michael DiVittorio is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Michael at 412-871-2367, or via Twitter .

Man remains hospitalized after Vandergrift shooting

posted Nov 6, 2019, 3:57 PM by Joseph Gray   [ updated Nov 6, 2019, 3:58 PM ]

Louis B. Ruediger | Tribune-Review
A man was shot Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019, near Franklin Park. Police found him near Madison Avenue, and he was transported to a hospital.
Louis B. Ruediger | Tribune-Review
A bloody footprint on West Madison Avenue in Vandergrift. A man was shot Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019, near Franklin Park. Police found him near Madison Avenue, and he was transported to a hospital.

Authorities are investigating a shooting that happened Tuesday in Vandergrift.

A 20-year-old man was recovering Wednesday after being shot once in the leg, according to Vandergrift police Chief Joe Caporali.

Caporali said the shooting was reported around 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in Franklin Park. The 20-year-old man was found a short time later on the sidewalk about a block and a half away from the park, in the 100 block of East Madison Avenue.

What appeared to be bloody footprints remained visible on the pavement Wednesday.

“There was a lot of blood loss,” said Westmoreland County Detective John Clark.

Clark said the victim was in “stable condition in a hospital ICU” late Wednesday afternoon.

Doctors did not think the wound was life-threatening, but “he isn’t out of the woods yet,” Clark said.

Authorities did not identify the victim. No witnesses have come forward.

Police said the man was with other people at the park when an argument started between them. Investigators declined to give further information.

Vandergrift police and Westmoreland County detectives are investigating, Caporali said. County detectives were scheduled to revisit the scene to check for evidence.

Anyone with information is asked to call police at 724-568-5507 or detectives at 911.

Chuck Biedka is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chuck at 724-226-4711, or via Twitter .

Vandergrift police make big meth, heroin haul

posted Oct 26, 2019, 1:30 PM by Joseph Gray


An Armstrong County man arrested Tuesday in Vandergrift is accused of having more than $11,000 of crystal methamphetamine and almost three “bricks” of heroin.

Monty Gene Smith II, 35, of West Lebanon Road, South Bend Township, was arrested without incident in a residence along the 300 block of Emerson Street just before 5 p.m.

About one pound, 6 ounces of meth was found inside a safe and elsewhere in the residence and a Chevrolet Geo Tracker being used by Smith, according to a police report.

Police said that much crystal meth sells for about $11,000.

The 148 heroin packets sell for about $10 each, or $1,480.

A woman who was there will be charged later with having a paraphernalia, Patrolman Nathaniel Rigatti said. He said Westmoreland County Detective John Clark helped on the case.

Smith is facing felony drug manufacturing and delivery or possession with intent to deliver charges, and misdemeanor possession or use.

Smith was arraigned Wednesday by District Judge Cheryl Peck Yakopec and sent to the Westmoreland County Prison pending a Nov. 5 preliminary hearing.

He was ordered held on $3,000 bail.

After that hearing, Smith’s bail was increased to $50,000 for another meth case in front of District Judge Jason Buczak.

In that case, Smith and three others were charged last spring in Salem Township with having about 21 grams of meth.

The arrests were made March 15 along Route 22 in Salem Township. An SUV driver was pulled over by a trooper for allegedly speeding at 70 mph in a 55 mph zone.

Police say meth sales are increasing since a record bust by state police in 2018.

Chuck Biedka is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chuck at 724-226-4711, or via Twitter .

Police arrest man who claimed to see cougars in Vandergrift

posted Jul 11, 2019, 8:28 AM by Joseph Gray

A man is awaiting a preliminary hearing after he claimed to see two cougars nearby and then jumped over a lawn chair and charged police in Vandergrift.

Police are accusing Justin John Crofutt, 37, of Ford City, of aggravated assault on an officer, resisting arrest and being under the influence during the incident on July 2. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for July 16.

According to an affidavit, police were sent to the Popular Street area of Vandergrift for a man who neighbors said appeared under the influence and “acting strange.” The affidavit did not state whether police believed Crofutt was under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

When police arrive, they ask Crofutt what was happening and, according to the affidavit, he replied that he was seeing two cougars.

An officer asked him to walk toward police.

That’s when, police say, Crofutt hurdled a lawn chair and ran at officers.

In response, an officer touched a Taser to Crofutt’s abdomen.

Police say Crofutt fell to the ground but soon started to roll over despite being told to stay on his stomach on the ground. When Crofutt started to get up, the same officer touched him with a Taser for 5 seconds, according to police.

Crofutt was arrested and handcuffed but resisted getting inside the police car, according to the arresting officer.

Crofutt was about half way into the car when he started to kick. An officer’s hand was injured, police said.

Details were not available from police if the officer was seriously injured.

A defense attorney is not yet listed on state court records for Crofutt.

Chuck Biedka is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chuck at 724-226-4711, or via Twitter .

Robbery with fake guns at Vandergrift park results in 2 arrests

posted Jul 11, 2019, 8:25 AM by Joseph Gray

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Two people are facing charges in connection with the robbery of a girl in Vandergrift’s Kennedy Park on Tuesday.

Police say Tavon Rasheed Williams, 20, who was staying at a Linden Avenue residence in the borough, and a 17-year-old accomplice approached the victim in the park along Jackson Avenue about 10:30 p.m.

Police say the victim told them Williams pulled out a gun, pointed it at her and said, “Give me whatever is in your bag.”

Police got a description and found Williams at the park’s basketball court.

According to police, Williams had a mesh book bag that contained a pellet or BB gun replica of a real pistol.

The 17-year-old had a silver revolver that was a pellet or BB gun, police said.

Both were taken into custody.

“You had to see these things,” Patrolman Joe Gray said. “They looked real, and they had the heft of real guns.”

Williams is charged with two counts of robbery and a count of simple assault.

He was arraigned Wednesday and sent to the Westmoreland County jail in lieu of bond pending a July 16 preliminary hearing by District Judge Cheryl Peck Yakopec.

Court records show he was still in jail Friday. There wasn’t an attorney listed in court papers Friday to represent Williams.

The 17-year-old alleged accomplice, a boy, is being charged as a juvenile, Gray said.

Chuck Biedka is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chuck at 724-226-4711, or via Twitter .

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