North Charleroi man to stand trial in car thefts

April 17, 2014
Tonio B. Howard

A North Charleroi man accused of breaking into a Charleroi car dealership on two occasions has been ordered to stand trial.

Tonio B. Howard, 22, of 372 Pennsylvania Ave., appeared before District Judge Ethan Ward in Central Court Wednesday for a preliminary hearing. Howard is accused of breaking into Ross Automotive, 621 McKean Ave., Charleroi, in February and March.

During the Feb. 14 burglary, a black 2005 BMW was stolen, along with several keys to other vehicles. The BMW was located Feb. 25 in Homestead, after it was left unattended, according to police. The vehicle was searched for evidence, and a Sheetz gas station receipt was found. The Sheetz, which is in Monroeville, provided police with surveillance video that showed four men exiting the vehicle and going into the store.

Surveillance video showed the driver wearing a camo jacket with a grey hoodie and a red shirt, police said. The video also showed the driver had a number of tattoos, including several on his face.

Police were called back to Ross Automotive March 20 for a second burglary. This time, a cash register, additional keys and a Gold GMC Envoy were reported stolen.

On March 27, the Envoy was found at the corner of Second Street and Lincoln Avenue in Charleroi. Charleroi police Officer Chad Zelinsky testified Wednesday that the police department decided to conduct surveillance on the vehicle that night. Shortly after ending the surveillance, Zelinsky said officers and members of Charleroi Fire Department were called to the area for a vehicle fire. Zelinsky said they found the Envoy engulfed in flames. A red gas can was found nearby, partially charred.

Zelinsky testified that officers went to a nearby Sunoco gas station and asked if anyone had bought a small amount of gas. The clerk told police a black man with several tattoos on his upper body and face came in and purchased $2.50 worth of gas. The clerk provided police with surveillance video.

Zelinsky testified it was the same man who had been identified as the driver in the Monroeville Sheetz surveillance video.

On March 31, police were called to Howard’s home for a disturbance. Zelinsky said when he knocked on the door, he immediately recognized Howard as the man from the surveillance videos. Zelinsky said he also identified a second man from the Sheetz video, Jeno Wall. Both men were taken into custody for questioning.

Wall denied any involvement and was released. Howard denied stealing the BMW but said he gave a man $20 for a ride, police documents showed. In regard to the Sunoco gas station footage, Howard told police he was buying gas for his girlfriend so she could get back to Detroit.

Howard was arrested, and while his property was being processed, police said they found a key to a Ford Fusion that belonged to Ross Automotive. Police said additional keys were found in Howard’s belongings after they obtained a search warrant to enter the Pennsylvania Avenue residence.

Howard has been charged with burglary, four counts of unlawful taking, two counts of arson, causing or risking catastrophe, recklessly endangering another person and two counts of receiving stolen property.

He remains in Washington County jail on $150,000 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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