BY MATTHEW KEMENY, KRIS FEDYSKY and JOSH MROZINSKI
Stephen W. Smith Jr., 20, was pronounced dead at 3:50 a.m. of multiple traumatic injuries after police found his body lying in the middle of Route 92 in Susquehanna County, about 200 yards north of the Wyoming County border.
Rashaun D. Garner, of Wilkes-Barre, has been charged with criminal homicide in connection with the death. Troopers on Sunday morning arrested the 17-year-old, who they say shot Smith in the abdomen following an argument.
Despite the coroner’s ruling, investigators said they will pursue murder charges against Garner, also known as “Rah.”
“It won’t affect the charges,” Susquehanna County District Attorney Jason Legg said. “Either way, the person shot him and left him lying in the road with a gunshot wound with no help and drove away.”
Garner is being charged as an adult because of the circumstances of the crime and the closeness to his 18th birthday, state Trooper Bill Satkowski said.
“He set the chain of events into motion,” Legg said. “He was the cause of death. He shot him (Smith) in a vital part of the body with a handgun into his mid-section.”
Conarton said being shot and struck by the vehicle each contributed to Smith’s death, adding, “the vehicle may have hastened his death.”
According to an affidavit:
Smith, Garner and six others piled into a pickup truck after leaving a party in Jackson Township early Friday. An argument between the two ensued, prompting the driver, Amanda Fratzola, 18, to pull over.
It’s still unclear what sparked the argument. Police interviewed at least three teens who were riding in the car, including Fratzola. None was able to provide a clear explanation of the argument.
“Steve and Rah started physically fighting each other and as Ryan (Keirnan) was getting out of the car to stop them, Rah shot Steve (Smith),” Fratzola told police in a written statement. “I believe I only saw Rah shoot Steve once. I saw a red flicker from the gun when he fired. I also heard the shot and saw Steve grab his torso and fall to the ground.
“They were both standing in the middle of the road, and that’s where Steve landed.”
In a written statement, Christine Sanders, 17, described what happened after the shooting.
“Rah got into the car and started crying,” she wrote. “I saw a black gun and he started freaking out, saying that if we tell on him, he will kill us or someone will kill us.”
The remaining witnesses in the pickup truck were identified in a police criminal complaint as Travis Scott Turner, 16, John Miloro, 15, Ryan Keirnan and Kevin Atwell. The ages of the latter two were not released. Witness addresses were also withheld.
At a memorial service Monday, Miloro told a Scranton Times-Tribune reporter Garner shot Smith after an argument. “He got shot right in front of me,” he said.
Smith’s body was not in the road very long before police were called to the scene, Legg said. None of the people in the vehicle is being considered suspects in the hit-and-run, he said.
Police interviewed two motorists on scene but have not made any arrests, said Legg, who added one of the motorists initially called police. “It was a random person traveling on the roadway,” Legg said. “It was really foggy and there was a person lying in the road, but they couldn’t see.”
There was blood spatter on the front of one of the vehicles, Legg said, adding that he was unsure whether the blood was a consequence of simply being at the scene or if the vehicle struck the body.
“So far, both motorists have been very cooperative,” he said. “They certainly indicated they don’t believe they hit anybody.”
Family members of Smith and authorities have indicated that he and Garner were friends, although the nature of their relationship remained unclear on Monday.
Acting on a tip, police arrested Garner on Sunday after he was discovered hiding in a gun safe at 128 Kimberly Circle in Clarks Summit. Two men at the home, Mark E. Yevonishon, 21, of 127 Welsh Hill Road, Clarks Summit, and Eric Schanbacher, 23, who lives at the Welsh Hill Road address, were charged with hindering apprehension of a wanted person.
Garner remains in Susquehanna County Correctional Facility without bail facing criminal homicide, aggravated assault and terroristic threat charges.
His preliminary hearing is scheduled for Dec. 5 at 9:30 a.m. in front of Magisterial District Judge Gene Franklin, Legg said.
Anyone with information on the incident is asked to call state police at Gibson at 465-3154 or state police at Dunmore at 963-3156.