Erie Times-News | By Ron Leonardi
Erie police have charged a Macon, Miss., native in the fatal shooting of a 34-year-old Pittsburgh man whose body was found in a bullet-riddled Jeep Grand Cherokee on Interstate 79 Tuesday morning.
William T. Johnson, 27, of the 3500 block of Maple Street, was arraigned Friday night before District Judge Joseph Lefaiver on charges of criminal homicide; aggravated assault; three counts of recklessly endangering another person; one count of possessing an instrument of crime; one count of persons not to possess, use, manufacture, control, sell or transfer firearms; and one count of tampering with or fabricating evidence.
Johnson was placed in Erie County Prison without bond after his arrest in a joint investigation of Erie police and the Lawrence Park Township-based Pennsylvania State Police.
State police found the body of Mark Washington in the Jeep Grand Cherokee on Tuesday shortly before 7 a.m. Washington had been shot in the head and neck, state police said.
Investigators said the Jeep found parked off the I-79 passing lane was the same vehicle that was involved in a gunfight with occupants of a minivan at East Sixth and Parade streets on Tuesday at about 2:30 a.m.
After Erie police detectives questioned Johnson for several hours Friday, Johnson admitted shooting Washington, Erie Police Chief Steve Franklin said.
State police had arrested Johnson on Friday as he reported for work at a plant outside of Erie, police said.
Police were sent to East Sixth and Parade streets at 2:32 a.m. on Tuesday on a report of shots fired.
Police found two shell casings on the road in the 400 block of East Sixth Street and what appeared to be glass shards.
Police said the exchange of gunfire between the vehicles happened after Washington and two other men argued with Johnson at the On Deck Tavern, 1137 E. 11th St., early Tuesday morning.
Investigators found a receipt from On Deck Tavern with Washington when they found his body in the vehicle later Tuesday morning.
Police said the owner of On Deck Tavern, who was working as the only bartender Monday night and Tuesday morning, said that about 14 people were in the tavern at closing time.
He told them Johnson was the only person that night drinking 16-ounce beer in Budweiser bottles.
Police collected several bottles from the trash as evidence and recovered several prints, which were sent to the state police crime lab for processing.
Preliminary fingerprint analysis revealed the prints to be Johnson's, police said.
Police said Washington and the two men left the On Deck Tavern in the Jeep, while Johnson left in a blue minivan.
One of the men with Washington in the Jeep told police he drove up next to Johnson's minivan in the 600 block of East Sixth Street, at which time Washington again began to argue with Johnson.
The driver of the Jeep told police Johnson then drove west on East Sixth Street. The driver of the Jeep said he followed the minivan. The minivan stopped and the Jeep again pulled up beside it, when Johnson fired multiple shots from a rifle, hitting Washington, who was in the passenger seat, police said.
Erie County Coroner Lyell Cook ruled that Washington died from a single gunshot wound to the head.
Washington was known to travel regularly between Pittsburgh and Erie, Franklin said Friday.
Staff writer Tim Hahn contributed to this report.
RON LEONARDI can be reached at 870-1680 or by e-mail.