UPDATE | Howland shootings are 'not a random act of violence'


HOWLAND

The busiest commercial strip in Trumbull County became a scene of mayhem Saturday afternoon as gunfire erupted in the front yard of a Niles-Cortland Road (state Route 46) home, eventually leaving two dead and three hospitalized.

A man is jailed and charged with aggravated murder.

Five people were shot at the Howland Township house on the five-lane corridor of Route 46 to and from the Eastwood Mall complex, across from the Sleepy Hollow Sleep Shop, near the Waffle House and about a block north of Home Depot.

A “physical altercation” at about 4:20 p.m. turned into a shootout, said Paul Monroe, Trumbull County sheriff. The episode happened in the front yard at 1564 Niles-Cortland Road. Monroe said he does not know why they were fighting.

Sgt. Jennifer Carr, Howland’s acting chief, said in a news release late Saturday that police received several reports of shots being fired and arrived to discover several victims in a gray van were shot in the driveway of 1564 Niles-Cortland Road. The homeowner, Nasser Hamad, was walking back into the residence carrying a firearm.

Officers ordered Hamad out and he was taken into custody. He is charged with aggravated murder and is in the Trumbull County jail.

“This was not a random act of violence. This incident is a result of an ongoing dispute between all parties involved,” the news release states. Police will not release the victims’ information until family members have been notified.

Monroe, a former Howland police chief, said the people involved in the fracas are known to the police department.

The crime scene is a gray-ish, nicely landscaped bungalow, a story and a half with a fireplace chimney out front. The Trumbull County Auditor’s office web site shows the property is owned by Hamad. It is next to a house that is for lease.

Howland police are in charge of the investigation. They were active Saturday night interviewing the suspect and numerous witnesses in the very busy highway area. Monroe said sheriff’s detectives are also assisting with witness interviews.

Events happened quickly, witnesses said.

Michael Bullard said he and a woman were watching television in a nearby residence, and a child in an orange shirt ran across the yard — covered in blood. “We really don’t know who shot or did anything,” Bullard said.

After the victims were taken from the scene, the van with Florida license plates remained parked askew in the bungalow driveway. The passenger and driver’s side doors remained open and there is a bullet hole in the driver’s side windshield — and shattered glass on the pavement next to the driver’s side.

A neighbor who lives next door to the bungalow, Eric Ortiz, said he heard what sounded like gunfire — but because of the constant traffic sounds he was not sure if it was gunfire or not.

“We thought they were shots, but you never know for sure,” Ortiz siad.

The neighbor also said police have been to the house at least three times in recent months.

“This is at least the third time the cops have been there,” Ortiz said.

Another neighbor, who lives on the other side of the bungalow, did not want to give her name, but she did say there have been numerous “altercations” at the home.

Warren Municipal Court records show Hamad, 47, pleaded no contest and was found guilty in December 2013 to a criminal charge of confinement and restraint, a misdemeanor, but records did not indicate what sentence, if any, he received.

The victims were taken to St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital trauma center and one was reported to be in cardiac arrest while in the ambulance, according to police radio broadcasts. A trauma team was waiting for them. One died at the hospital; one in the van was dead at the scene.

At about 5:30 p.m., the busy St. Elizabeth staff diverted all incoming patients for two hours, with the exception of trauma patients.

Inside the hospital, a reporter found that access to the emergency room was restricted.

No one driving by the crime scene was hurt as the gunfire occurred. Although Route 46 near the Eastwood Mall is now primarily a business corridor with restaurants and lodging, there are still a few private homes near the crime scene.

It appeared to take a while to get rescue crews to the scene. One victim in the yard was described as “bleeding out.” Police were radioing the ambulance crew to hurry — and seemed to wonder why it was taking so long, according to their urgent radio broadcasts.

Monroe, however, said there were no problems getting emergency crews into and out of the area.

The shootings resulted in the closing into the evening of Route 46 between the Home Depot Store and state Route 82. Traffic problems are occurring as people tried to find alternate routes around the area. Traffic was backing up on Howland-Wilson Road and Routes 82 and 46. Businesses in the area were locked down and remained so late into the evening.

The normally bustling street between the Eastwood Mall entrance and Route 82 became eerily devoid of traffic. Several businesses which are typically packed had to close.

According to 21-WFMJ TV, The Vindicator’s broadcast partner, Trumbull County 911 received calls from several people saying they witnessed the shooting.

One man told the 911 center that he witnessed a man walk out of a house and began shooting. One witness says she saw people fighting, then running into the van before the shooting began.

A woman who was driving by with her children in the car says she saw someone covered in blood running across the road. One man told the dispatcher he saw a man wearing a gray hoodie and blue jeans, who seemed to have “no concern” for anybody.

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