Shooting in shadow of YSU

By Ed Runyan



Brittany N. Johnson, 23, of Bedford Heights, a nursing student at Youngstown State University, remained in stable condition Sunday evening in St. Elizabeth Health Center, where a girlfriend drove her after she was shot on Pennsylvania Avenue at 2:48 a.m. Sunday.

Youngstown police said the gun was fired by Sylean Wilson, 19, of Pittsburgh, who was arrested a short time later at an apartment building at Pennsylvania and Madison avenues and charged with felonious assault.

The apartment is across the street from YSU’s Lyden House residence hall on the north end of campus.

A YouTube video shows a man running south on Pennsylvania Avenue and firing a gun as he headed toward the apartment building. It also shows a Youngstown police cruiser coming down the street following the man.

A Youngstown police report said the officer observed a man “fire multiple shots upon a dark-colored vehicle. Then vehicle then left the scene south on Pennsylvania.”

The officer confirmed that he followed the man, later identified as Wilson, to the apartment building at 801 Pennsylvania.

The officer was about to enter the building, but a man, later identified as Rashaad Lewis, 19, also of Pittsburgh, closed the door on the officer just after Wilson entered, the report said.

Officers later entered the building and found Wilson among four to five people in a room. They found a handgun between the window panes in the room. Women in the car that was hit by the gunfire later told police at the hospital that the man who matched Wilson’s clothing fired at them.

Lewis was charged with obstructing official business. Wilson also was charged with obstructing official business after police discovered he had given them incorrect identification.

Both men are expected to be arraigned today in Youngstown Municipal Court.

Witnesses who talked to police said Wilson fired his handgun because he was “defending himself because the people he shot at had shot first,” police said.

Meanwhile, a YSU student living farther north on Pennsylvania said he witnessed the entire shootout and that it involved about a dozen shots fired from Wilson’s gun, but he didn’t hear any shots coming from anywhere else and thinks Wilson was trying to hit people in another car, not the females.

“We were all sitting upstairs and heard about four shots,” the man said. “All of a sudden, there was a man with his gun drawn, he was shooting down the street. It was a pretty crazy scene for 3 a.m.,” he said.

The man said he believes Wilson was focusing his attention on a second car coming south on Pennsylvania and firing at that car and that the women were “caught in the crossfire.”

At that point, it looked as if Wilson went up to the women’s car, which was near 825 Pennsylvania Ave., to check on them, he said.

The women told police they first pulled up to the apartment at the corner of Pennsylvania and Madison Avenues “when they heard a series of loud ‘pops.’” A rear-seat passenger said she looked out and saw Wilson “pointing a gun at their car and firing rounds,” so she “yelled at the driver ... to start driving.

“As they began to drive away, ... Johnson, who was seated behind the driver, advised that she was shot and they rushed [her] to St. Elizabeth’s.”

A police officer saw their black Dodge Avenger at the hospital with two bullet holes in the rear driver’s side passenger door.

The commanding officer working at the Youngstown Police Department Sunday evening refused to comment on the case beyond what was contained in the police report, and Police Chief Rod Foley could not be reached to comment.

YSU student Lashawna Jackson of Cleveland, who lives in Lyden Hall and was walking on Pennsylvania Avenue Sunday afternoon with several other students, said the the concern she has about the incident is that Pennsylvania Avenue is used by a lot of students for parking, walking and driving.

“It happened while all the kids were coming home, so it [the shooting] could have happened to anybody,” she said.

“In a sense it’s a bad situation because a girl got hurt, but it could have been worse because a lot of people could have gotten shot,” she said.

She added, however, that she feels “pretty safe” at YSU.

Her friend, Alaina Wells, also of Cleveland, said she’s “not really concerned about my safety because the person involved doesn’t live in the city.” Wells said this incident hasn’t changed her mind about living in Youngstown and attending YSU. “Other than that [the shooting], I love Youngstown,” she said.

Ron Cole, spokesman for the university, said the university sent out an alert by email to the university community about the incident to say that the campus was safe “because the suspects were apprehended so quickly.”

Cole said he doesn’t know where Johnson lives locally. She is a freshman studying pre-nursing who started at the university in the fall of 2011.

Phil Kidd, formerly employed by the non-profit Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative, lived at the north end of Pennsylvania Avenue near Wick Park until 18 months ago and still remains active in the Wick Park Neighborhood Association.

Kidd said Pennsylvania Avenue, which is just one block long, had about four arsons around 2009, but the homes were torn down, and since then the street has been “trending in an upward direction” except for an aggravated robbery charge he noticed on a Youngstown Police Department database a couple weeks ago that he found surprising.

Cole said he doesn’t know whether the university has had any concerns regarding that street or neighborhood but that the city and YSU police “patrol that area regularly.’’ Two years ago, on Feb. 6, 2011, Jamail Johnson, a 25-year-old YSU senior, was killed and 11 others were injured at an early-morning house party on Indiana Avenue, which is about three blocks east of Pennsylvania Avenue and also near the YSU campus.

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