Police: Coal Township man victim of shooting in Hazleton
COAL TOWNSHIP - An unidentified township man, who was the victim of a non-lethal shooting in Hazleton Monday, was escorted by police from a Webster Street home and returned to the Luzerne County city, where officers attempted to learn more about the second shooting there in several days.
Police say an East Stroudsburg man shot the township man in the leg during some type of altercation inside a vehicle on Hazleton's south side Monday afternoon.
Unfortunately for the alleged shooter, Joseph E. Babbitt, 25, state and federal agents were in Hazleton assisting in an unrelated homicide investigation the day he pulled the trigger of a low-caliber gun on another man and fruitlessly tried to drive away.
"It was a very bad day to commit a criminal act four blocks from city hall," Hazleton police Chief Frank DeAndrea said.
Gun under car
At about 3:15 p.m., state police cars and unmarked vehicles operated by state and federal agents joined multiple Hazleton police cruisers as they converged on two areas of Hazleton - one on Lee Court between West Walnut and West Chapel streets and in the area of South Filmore Court and West Walnut Street.
DeAndrea said about 25 law enforcement officers responded.
DeAndrea said Babbitt is accused of shooting an unnamed victim in the right leg, about two inches above his knee, while Babbitt was inside the man's black Dodge Durango in a restaurant parking lot on South Church Street, only a few blocks from Hazleton's police station. DeAndrea said he would not release the victim's name because he is a witness to a crime.
After pulling the trigger, he said, Babbitt began to run from the victim, who chased him in his vehicle. That chase ended after Babbitt allegedly got into a red Chevrolet and drove a few blocks away to a parking lot in the area of Lee Court, between West Chapel and West Walnut streets. But before Babbitt got away, the victim allegedly rammed his Durango into Babbitt's vehicle, DeAndrea said.
Officers took Babbitt into custody on Lee Court near his vehicle, which had damage to the back end and front passenger side. An unidentified woman with him was taken into custody for questioning but later released.
DeAndrea said Babbitt threw the .25-caliber black handgun allegedly used in the shooting under a vehicle in the parking lot where he was found.
As an uninvolved vehicle parked next to the Chevrolet backed up, officers found the gun and placed it in an evidence bag.
While police converged on Babbitt, the victim was driving back to his home in Coal Township, DeAndrea said.
About 3:20 p.m., area officers were alerted by emergency communications to be on the lookout for a vehicle registered locally and related to a Hazleton shooting.
Five officers from Coal Township and Shamokin police departments were on scene about 3:40 p.m. with weapons at the ready. At least nine officers responded while the situation unfolded.
No shots were fired and no aggressive actions were observed.
Pedestrian and vehicle traffic was stopped to the east and west of the scene. Several neighbors looked on from their front porches and chatted with each other about the nature of the police activity.
A black Dodge Durango was searched by officers and later towed from a dirt lot at Webster and Clay streets, below Tioga Street, to the township police department at 805 W. Lynn St.
Hazleton police picked up the victim from Coal Township police, DeAndrea said. The man was brought into the Hazleton police station in handcuffs, but was released when police determined he was a victim in the incident, DeAndrea said.
DeAndrea said the shooting was motivated by some type of altercation between Babbitt and the victim that happened Sunday. However, he said neither the victim nor Babbitt would clearly tell police what the altercation was about. DeAndrea said he was unsure if the victim even knew why he was shot.
Babbitt has been charged with aggravated assault and felony weapons charges; the gun Babbitt used had an altered serial number, DeAndrea said.
DeAndrea said emergency workers tended to the victim in Coal Township and again while he was at the Hazleton police station. DeAndrea said it appeared the bullet passed "cleanly through" and the injury is non life-threatening.
According to Dave Basala, general manager for Tech Transport, 343 W. Walnut St., Hazleton, he was taking care of paperwork when one of his employees heard gunfire sometime after 2 p.m.
Basala said he left his building and saw a red Chevrolet stopped at Filmore Court and Walnut Street and a black Durango northbound on Filmore Court.
"And the Durango plows this car," he said.
The sport utility vehicle turned onto Beech Street, where Basala said he lost sight of it.
Multiple police departments were asked to look for a vehicle matching the Durango's description.
Shortly after police talked with Babbitt and the Coal township man, officers took into custody Adami Y. Arias, 20, with a last known address of 561 Seybert St., Hazleton, as a person of interest in a fatal shooting there Saturday night. That shooting is not connected to the incident involving the Coal Township man, police said.
Angel Villalobos, 19, has been identified as the victim of Saturday night's shooting.
He was found by police in the 500 block of West Maple Street after neighbors called 911 upon hearing a series of gunshots around 7:15 p.m. Saturday.
Villalobos sustained multiple gunshot wounds and his death was ruled a homicide after an autopsy was performed at Wilkes-Barre General Hospital, acting Luzerne County Coroner William Lisman said.
On Saturday night, Luzerne County Deputy Coroner Jeffrey Stock said Villalobos died in the emergency room at Hazleton General Hospital.
An unidentified 24-year-old man was also found in the same area as Villalobos, but was treated and later released from Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center, Plains Township, DeAndrea said. The second shooting victim's name has not yet been released by police.
(Staff writer Eric Scicchitano contributed to this report.)