One suspect arraigned for Uni-Mart robbery, shooting, one still at large

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One man has been arraigned on charges stemming from a March 27 robbery of a local convenience store that left a clerk with a gunshot wound to his lower body.


Christopher M. Pitzarella, 23, of 43 W. Hallam Ave., was arraigned before District Judge Robert Redlinger on charges of illegally lending or giving firearms and multiple counts of robbery Tuesday.


According to court documents, Pitzarella and Shayne Charles Coffield, 23, of 247 W. Hallam Ave., entered the Uni-Mart on East Maiden Street in Washington wearing dark clothing, masks and gloves about 4:25 a.m. One of the men was armed with a handgun.


Immediately after walking into the convenience store, the suspect carrying the handgun leapt the counter and grabbed Uni-Mart employee John Helfrich, firing one shot that struck him in the left leg near the knee. Helfrich was also punched and kicked in his face and head.


The other suspect allegedly assaulted Uni-Mart employee David Holmes, who was working a short distance away. Holmes was thrown to the floor and kicked in the head and face. During the assault, Holmes’ wallet was taken from him.


Helfrich stayed at the register with the gunman but was unable to open it. The two suspects then removed the register base and took it from the store. The gun was again pointed at Helfrich before the two men fled in an unknown direction.


Helfrich was taken to Washington Hospital for treatment before being transferred to UPMC-Presbyterian hospital in Pittsburgh.


By looking at store records, police determined $221.57 was inside the register when it was stolen. They also found a spent 22-caliber shell casing and a 22-caliber slug behind the counter.


Police said shortly before the incident Pitzarella was in possession of a firearm identical to the one used in the robbery. During questioning, Pitzarella identified Coffield as the person who shot Helfrich.


Coffield was accused of contacting people in an attempt to dispose of the firearm, and police said Pitzarella contacted others in order to establish an alibi for the date of the robbery.


Pitzarella was arraigned by Judge Redlinger and placed in the Washington County jail on a $100,000 bond. His preliminary hearing is scheduled for April 17 at 9:30 a.m.


As of Tuesday evening, Coffield was still at large. Anyone knowing his whereabouts is asked to contact Washington police.


This was not Coffield’s first run-in with the law. In 2009, he was sentenced to 18 to 36 months in jail for burglary after he broke into and stole three laptops from a home in Houston.


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