Erie police launched a homicide investigation on the early morning of Jan. 27 after a 30-year-old city man was found dead in the street on McClelland Avenue.
A drug investigation followed after police were told that a group from Arizona that was staying in a nearby short-term rental house had traveled to the city to sell fentanyl.
As detectives continue working on trying to identify who fired the shots that killed Shannon Crosby and seriously injured one member of the Arizona group, Erie police have called on federal agencies for assistance in finding the source of the drugs and why they were brought to the city.
One dead in Erie shooting:Police searching for suspects after shooting at Erie rental leaves one man dead, one wounded
“We’re passing information on to our federal partners to look at the bigger picture, where the drugs came from and how they were transported across the country,” Erie Police Chief Dan Spizarny said.
Police have spoken with members of the FBI and the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, he said.
The FBI confirmed that the FBI Pittsburgh’s Erie office is in communication with Erie police during its investigation and is poised to assist, if needed.
No one had been charged as of Thursday in the shooting, which police said happened at a short-term rental house at 3904 McClelland Ave. and was first reported at 12:07 a.m. on Jan. 27.
According to investigators, four men from Arizona had traveled to Erie and were staying at the house when an attempted home-invasion robbery occurred and gunshots were fired.
Crosby was found in the street in the 3800 block of McClelland Avenue and was taken to UPMC Hamot, where he was pronounced dead. An autopsy determined that Crosby died of a gunshot wound to the trunk, said Erie County Coroner Lyell Cook, who ruled the death a homicide.
Officers who responded to the shooting found shell casings of multiple calibers at the scene, investigators reported.
Victim ID’d in fatal Erie shooting:Short-term rental shooting victim ID’d; police say Arizona group traveled to Erie to sell drugs
One of the Arizona men, identified by Erie police as 18-year-old Kortez L. Murray, of Phoenix, was shot in the face and body and initially went to Saint Vincent Hospital for treatment before being transferred to UPMC Hamot.
Investigators said another member of the Arizona group, 21-year-old Saul Felix, of Avondale, near Phoenix, was at the hospital with Murray and spoke to Erie police detectives. He told investigators that the group had traveled from the Phoenix area to Erie to sell a quantity of fentanyl pills to a person in Erie for $30,000, according to information in case documents.
Detectives said Felix told them the group arrived in Erie on Jan. 25, and on that day a quantity of pills were provided to an Erie contact for $23,000 during a meeting at an apartment complex near the McClelland Avenue rental house. Felix said another drug deal took place at the apartment complex on Jan. 26, according to investigators.
Erie police charged Felix with felony counts of conspiracy to commit possession with intent to deliver and criminal use of a communication facility and with a misdemeanor count of possession of a controlled substance. Murray was charged with a felony count of conspiracy to commit possession with intent to deliver and misdemeanor possession of a controlled substance.
Both men are in the Erie County Prison on $250,000 bond.
Detectives charged the other two members of the Arizona group, but both remained at large Thursday.
Abner L. Gonzalez, 19, of Tolleson, near Phoenix, and Deontray E. Keomany-Smith, 19, of Avondale, are each wanted on conspiracy to commit possession with intent to deliver and possession of a controlled substance charges.
Investigators served a search warrant on the McClelland Avenue rental house after the shooting and said they collected evidence. Spizarny declined to comment on the recovered evidence, including whether police seized any suspected drugs.
When asked if the Arizona group had visited Erie prior to their late January visit, Spizarny said that is part of the ongoing investigation.
Police are still trying to determine how many other people were involved in the shooting and who those people are, Erie police Deputy Chief Rick Lorah said Thursday.
The fentanyl pills the group was accused of selling in Erie are illegal drugs that city police drug detectives come across occasionally in their investigations, said Lt. Mike Chodubski of the Erie Bureau of Police Drug & Vice Unit. He said detectives have investigated cases involving fentanyl pills four or five times before the recent shooting.
The pills, which are manufactured in different sizes, can sell for $20 to $60 a pill on the streets, Chodubski said.
Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid developed for pain management, has been blamed in numerous drug deaths across the country through illicit use in recent years. Cook, the coroner, reported in March that fentanyl was found in three-quarters of Erie County’s 80 drug-related deaths in 2020.
Spizarny said drug deals such as the one suspected of taking place when the Jan. 27 shooting occurred are dangerous not only from the drugs being peddled, but from the transactions.
He said the likelihood of violence is high as dealers tend to be armed, and shootings can occur.
“These drug dealers are known to carry weapons for their protection. When police get involved, we’re always dealing with armed individuals,” he said.
Spizarny said the Jan. 27 incident brought to mind a similar incident that occurred in Erie in February 2019, when two men were wounded in a shootout outside of the Courtyard by Marriott Erie Bayfront Hotel.
According to investigators, a group from Chicago traveled to Erie to sell a kilo of heroin for $80,000 to a local contact. A shootout occurred during the transaction, and two of the men from Chicago were wounded and were taken into police custody.
Police recovered a package they said contained 300 grams of the suspected heroin at the shooting scene.
Erie police probe drug deal in shootout:Police: Shootout in Erie stemmed from drug deal
One of the wounded men, 39-year-old Jermaine Belgrave, was convicted at trial in June of charges of conspiracy to commit possession with intent to deliver, carrying a firearm without a license and recklessly endangering in the incident. He was sentenced in November to serve seven years and six months to 15 years in state prison.
The other wounded man, 38-year-old Charles W. Baizar, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit possession with intent to deliver and was sentenced in February 2020 to serve five to 10 years in prison.
No one was charged for shooting Belgrave and Baizar.
The sharing of information with the FBI and DEA in the shooting and drug case comes as Erie police and other local and federal law enforcement agencies are preparing to implement collaborative drug-fighting efforts through a federal designation bestowed in 2021.
The Pittsburgh-based U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Pennsylvania, which includes Erie, announced in May that Erie County was designated as a High Intensity Drug Trafficking area by the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office said the county has been used by drug traffickers as a waypoint for large-scale distribution by exploiting Erie’s easy access by transportation routes to larger cities such as Cleveland, Buffalo and Detroit.
Erie County gets aid in drug fight:Federal designation adds resources, funding to fight against illegal drugs in Erie County
The dealers utilize Erie County as a repackaging hub for further distribution of their product and to funnel drug proceeds back through the supply line, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
Officials said the designation would provide Erie County with funding and other resources and would involve all law enforcement in the region in some capacity to combat drug trafficking.
Designation bolsters drug fight in Erie:New federal designation to bolster crime-fighting efforts of FBI-led task force in Erie
Spizarny said at the time the announcement was made that the designation would mean more coordination between law enforcement agencies and would give Erie police the opportunity to dive deeper into drug investigations to seek where the drugs are coming from and to try to stop them at the source.
Spizarny said Wednesday that meetings on setting up the program are ongoing. The operational aspects of the program are being set up and officials are preparing task force officers to work on it, he said.
The FBI said it continues to work with its state and local partners to bring much-needed resources to the area that the designation offers.
Contact Tim Hahn at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @ETNhahn.