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Vandergrift officer struck by vehicle, shoots at driver

posted Nov 18, 2016, 9:38 PM by Joseph Gray   [ updated Nov 18, 2016, 9:39 PM ]

                                                           

Somehow, no one was seriously injured Wednesday morning when a Vander­grift police officer and a borough employee were hit by a car and the officer fired gunshots at the driver. 

What at first was thought to be an intentional, criminal act may have been a case of an accident caused by mechanical malfunction, police said.

The incident occurred at Kochka's Citgo station and convenience store.

State police said Vandergrift Officer Richard “Joe” Gray, 45, and borough employee Glenn Rupert, 49, were struck by a car driven by Charles Pencak, 67. All three are Vandergrift residents.

State police spokesman Steve Limani said Pencak's Chevrolet Impala entered Kochka's lot from Sherman Avenue just before 9 a.m.

It made a loop around Gray's police car before hitting an ice machine and product display in front of the store. The car then struck Gray and Rupert, who were in front of the store, before striking a parked truck.

Witnesses said Gray, who was thrown into the air by the impact, managed to get to his feet and draw his gun. He ordered the driver to stop after the Impala made an abrupt U-turn in the parking lot and came back past the front of the store.

“I saw Officer Gray and another man thrown high into the sky and then landed on the asphalt. I'm surprised they were not killed,” said Stacy Johnson, 31, of Parks Township. She said the men landed on their backs or sides on the pavement.

“I heard Officer Gray tell the driver to ‘Stop! Stop! Stop! Turn off the engine!' That's when he shot at the driver,” Johnson said.

Both of Gray's shots struck the Impala's windshield, but Pencak was not hit.

His car continued past Gray, struck one of the station's gas pumps and stopped in the lot just short of Sherman Avenue.

“Preliminarily, it appeared to the officer that the driver was trying to get away when the officer fired,” Trooper Limani said.

Pencak was taken to the Kiski Valley state police station for questioning.

Limani said Pencak told police that his car's accelerator pedal stuck, causing the vehicle to go out of control.

When he got out of the car, Pencak “kept saying he was sorry and that the gas pedal had stuck,” Johnson said.

It may take several days before state police can complete the investigation and talk with the district attorney's office to decide if any charges will be filed, Limani said.

Because the incident involved a borough police officer, state police are handling the investigation.

Gray and Rupert were treated and released at area hospitals. Pencak was not injured.

It was unclear Wednesday whether Gray would be placed on leave pending the results of the investigation. It often is standard procedure for police officers to be placed on administrative leave when they are involved in incidents requiring them to discharge their firearms.

Chuck Biedka is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-226-4711 or cbiedka@tribweb.com.

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