Avella woman facing trial in shooting case

April 1, 2014
Tracy Chechuck is led to District Justice Ethan Ward’s office in Buffalo Township for her recent arraignment on attempted homicide charges. - Jim McNutt / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

The case against an Avella woman accused of shooting a housemate in the head is headed to trial.

Tracy Joann Chechuck, 26, of 20 Hill St., was ordered held for court after a preliminary hearing Tuesday before District Judge Ethan Ward.

The victim, Louis E. Ruscello, 39, was taken to UPMC-Prebyterian hospital in Pittsburgh after he was shot in the lower right corner of his mouth during an altercation March 14 with Chechuck’s fiancé, Lowe Michael Hawkins Jr., 30, at the home the three shared.

Ruscello underwent surgery, was in a medically induced coma and is eating through a feeding tube. He was released from the hospital March 28.

The bullet remains lodged in his left temple.

In addition to a lengthy recovery, Ruscello said he still faces surgery to remove the bullet from his head.

His vision, hearing and the nerves in his face were also damaged, and doctors are unsure if he’ll regain feeling or function, Ruscello said.

The trio returned home from Sputsy’s Bar on Campbell Street in Avella, and Ruscello testified that he does not remember the argument or being shot.

He said the last thing he remembers was drinking and playing pool at the bar.

The argument turned physical when Ruscello reportedly used both hands to grab Hawkins by the shirt.

Chechuck, hearing the commotion, retrieved a Taurus .45-caliber handgun from her bedroom, and went into the living room and sat on the couch before entering the kitchen where the confrontation was taking place.

She told police Ruscello had Hawkins by the shirt, pushing him backward over the stove.

State Trooper Douglas Rush, who filed the charges, said Chechuck told police she did not see Ruscello hit, kick or choke Hawkins nor did he threaten anyone with a weapon. Chechuck told Rush she tried to push between the two men, but Ruscello pushed her away. Rush said she told him she pulled the slide back to chamber a round. She then allegedly held the gun to the right side of Ruscello’s head and the gun “went off.”

Rush testified that it was recently brought to his attention that Hawkins claims he pushed the gun away from Ruscello’s head, possibly causing it to go off. Rush said he needs to investigate this new information more thoroughly.

Chechuck is charged with attempted homicide, aggravated assault and reckless endangerment. She remains in the Washington County jail on a $50,000 percentage bond.

Francesca Sacco joined the Observer-Reporter as a staff writer in November 2013, and covers the Washington County Courthouse and education. Prior to working with the Observer-Reporter, Francesca was a staff writer with a Gannett paper in Ohio. She graduated from Point Park University with a dual bachelor’s degree in print and broadcast journalism.

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