Sheriff: ‘Domestic angle’ to Hancock County shooting

NEW CUMBERLAND — Authorities are still trying to figure out what triggered a shooting spree Wednesday evening in rural Hancock County that left one woman dead and four people wounded during a 30-minute crime spree that terrorized residents in the northern part of the county.

On Thursday, Sheriff Ralph Fletcher identified the dead woman as 58-year-old Sandra Brown, 89 Judge Drive. Injured were 31-year-old Travis Choina, also of Judge Drive; Catherine Podolak, 53, of 189 Clearview Ave., New Cumberland; and Ronald Perrine and James Lloyd, no ages or addresses available.

Fletcher said charges are pending against the shooting suspect, Michael Angelo McClanahan, 45, also of 89 Judge Drive.

Brown was McClanahan’s “significant other,” according to a news release issued by the department. The two shared a child.

McClanahan, who was shot by a deputy attempting to take him into custody, was transferred for treatment at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh, where he remains under guard.

“When they initiated the stop, they knew they had the right truck and they knew who was driving the truck,” Fletcher said. “He was going in another direction … they didn’t know where he was going. Was he looking for more victims? Was he going back to the original crime scene? … There’d already been three areas where shots were fired and people injured. Did we stop him before things got worse? I believe we did.”

According to the sheriff, here’s how the events unfolded:

¯ At 7:41 p.m., Hancock County 911 was notified a female had been shot at a residence on Judge Drive, New Cumberland. Upon arriving at the scene, they located Brown’s body and Choina, who had been shot but was still alive. Choina was transported to a local hospital, then transferred to Allegheny General in Pittsburgh.

¯ At 7:56 p.m., 911 callers reported an active shooter on Clearview Street, one of them telling dispatchers an individual had driven through her yard and shot into her residence “multiple times.” The caller, Podolak, had been shot in the abdomen, and Perrine and Lloyd had been injured by shrapnel. Podolak was able to identify McClanahan as the shooter and describe the vehicle he was driving, Fletcher said.

¯ At 8:09 p.m., a resident of Carriage Court told the 911 dispatcher a male in a two-tone truck holding a pistol had been “doing doughnuts,” but was leaving the scene.

¯ Just two minutes later, a Hancock County deputy sheriff observed the vehicle traveling north on Veterans Boulevard and attempted to stop the vehicle, which turned onto Locust Hill Road and slammed into a residence.

“At this point the deputy sheriff encountered McClanahan (and), as he was still presenting a threat and also known to be armed, shot McClanahan,” a press release issued by the sheriff’s department Thursday said. “Immediately after the shooting the officer provided first aid and summoned emergency medical personnel. Two firearms were removed from McClanahan and his vehicle, one being a .25 semi-automatic pistol and the other a double-barrel 12 gauge shotgun.”

The officer who shot McClanahan administered first aid until the ambulance arrived on scene. Fletcher said McClanahan is at Allegheny General “under guard, though he hasn’t been formally arrested yet.”

“But that’s coming,” the sheriff added.

Fletcher said his officers had previous encounters with McClanahan, though he did not specify what those encounters entailed.

“But, once they had a name and description, they knew more about him. They’ve had dealings with him before, so they started going in directions, possible areas, where he could have been headed,” the sheriff said.

Fletcher said there appears to be “a bit of a domestic angle” to the crime, “but we haven’t been able to nail it all down. We’ve got information leaning toward that, but we got a few conflicting (witness) statements, so we have a ways to go before we can tighten it all up. We’re getting a better picture, it’s getting clearer, but we’re still a little ways off from where I would be calling it a domestic (dispute).”

He also credited the response of area law enforcement personnel who poured into the scene from other locales, including Chester, New Cumberland, Weirton Police Department, East Liverpool, Saline Township (Ohio) police departments, as well as Brooke County sheriff’s deputies, West Virginia State Police, WV NRP and the ATF. Fire departments from New Manchester, Chester and New Cumberland also responded, as did ambulances from Hancock County and Northstar Ambulance Services.

Others, like Steubenville, had officers positioned to respond if needed.

“We had all this information flooding in from different directions,” Fletcher said. “Some of it was misinformation, but we were able to wade through all that. And, not only did we have those three crime scenes to deal with, but there were so many other calls coming in: In a three-hour period, from 7:20 p.m. to 10:20 p.m., our dispatch handled 155 calls. In addition to those 155 calls, they also had 1,977 radio transmissions.

“A lot of the calls were coming in from people trying to be helpful … people who heard something they thought was suspicious or saw something they thought was suspicious.

“Every one of those calls was answered, besides what (my guys) were dealing with. We were able to do that because of all the extra manpower that showed up.”

Fletcher said many of the officers from other locales were unfamiliar with Hancock County’s back roads and rural neighborhoods and had to use GPS to answer calls.

“But that was key,” he said. “We had three major incidents going on, pretty much 15 minutes apart, each. For that many officers to show up, whether they were called out or alerted by radio, some just crossed the river … that’s the kind of cooperation you expect from law enforcement. When it happens, with a situation this large, it was just very, very helpful.”

Fletcher said his office continues to investigate the shootings on Judge Drive and Clearview Avenue, but they’ve handed the officer-involved shooting over to West Virginia State Police.