Neighbors credited with helping police make quick arrest in city homicide

January 9, 2013
Brandon Wolowski

Washington’s police chief is crediting residents of the city’s West End for helping investigators make a quick arrest in the Tuesday night shooting that killed a 37-year-old man and wounded his girlfriend.

Brandon Lee Wolowski, 18, of 915 1/2 Addison St., Washington, is charged with homicide, attempted homicide, aggravated assault and robbery in the shooting at a home at 905 Fayette St. Matthew Mathias was pronounced dead at the scene of gunshot wounds to the chest and torso. Michelle Powell, 38, was taken to Washington Hospital and then transferred to a Pittsburgh hospital, where police said she was in critical condition. She had gunshot wounds to the face, chest and arm.

Washington police Chief Robert Lemons said Wolowski, Mathias and Powell knew each other. Wolowski went to the Mathias home about 7 p.m. and was allowed in, he added.

“He was going to try and rob (Mathias) of guns in the house,” Lemons said. “Something transpired, and he started shooting.”

Wolowski, in a statement to police, said he planned to steal guns he knew Mathias kept in a safe. The 18-year-old told investigators he fired at Mathias, who tried to run out the front door, then went back inside the home and fired several shots at Powell.

Lemons said Mathias made it out the front door, where he was found by responding police officers. Powell made it across the street to a neighbor’s home.

Powell identified the attacker as “Brandon.” Lemons said neighbors not only provided the suspect’s full name but also helped police find where he had gone after the shooting. Police were able to talk with Powell only briefly before she was transported to the Pittsburgh hospital.

“We started talking to people and got tips as to where the shooter was,” Lemons said. “We went to that location and took him into custody without incident.”

Wolowski was found at a friend’s home in the 800 block of Addison. Several weapons were recovered at that residence, Lemons said, but it is too soon to tell whether one was the murder weapon.

“I really have to credit the residents and the neighborhood crime watch,” Lemons said. “Without people coming forward, we would have never been able to make an arrest so quickly.

“We had no idea what Brandon’s last name was. A lot of good people stepped up last night. They came forward and took a stand.”

Lemons said his officers regularly patrol different neighborhoods, including the West End, on foot.

“I think because they see the officers and interact with them, they are more comfortable talking with them when something happens,” Lemons added. “I think being out there, walking the streets, makes all the difference in the world.”

Lemons said police were familiar with the suspect and the two victims from previous calls.

Tuesday’s incident was not the first time Mathias’ guns were targeted in a theft. In May 2010, he reported to city police that several firearms, including a 9 mm Beretta, a 9 mm Jennings and .25-caliber and .32-caliber handguns, were stolen from his home.

In July, Wolowski was charged with resisting arrest and furnishing false identification to police. Police were investigating a theft in Maple Terrace when Wolowski allegedly gave them a false name. Knowing he was wanted by the juvenile probation office, police tried to take Wolowski into custody, but he fled. He was apprehended a few blocks away and is awaiting trial on charges in that case.

Wolowski was arraigned before District Judge James Ellis and placed in the Washington County jail without bond. A preliminary hearing is set for Wednesday in Central Court.

Kathie O. Warco has covered the police beat and transportation for the Observer-Reporter for more than 25 years. She graduated from Duquesne University with a degree in journalism.

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