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Pagan accused in Charleroi beating says he had no intention of harming former club member

Matthew Vasquez testified on Thursday that the beating that left Troy Harris with permanent injuries ensued unexpectedly when Harris showed a sign of “disrespect” toward Vasquez and six other Pagans who encountered the former member of their club at a social hall in Charleroi.

“Troy had a smirk on his face when he put his hand out to shake” Jason Huff’s hand, Vasquez recounted.

Vasquez, 31, of Monessen, spoke on the third day of testimony in his jury trial on charges of aggravated assault, attempted homicide, conspiracy to commit those two crimes and simple assault. His co-defendant, Joseph Olinsky III, 46, of McKeesport, also waived his right not to speak in his own defense. The charges stem from the April 18 beating at the Charleroi Slovak Club, 700 McKean Ave. It occurred at roughly 10:20 p.m.

Olinsky and Vasquez are being held in jail pending the outcome of their cases.

The prosecution contends that Harris, ex-president of the Fayette City chapter of the Pagans, was beaten so badly he was flown to Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh because he’d left the club years earlier and joined a rival motorcycle club, the Sutars Soldiers. But during his testimony, Vasquez told his attorney, Stephen Colafella, he’d had no intention of hurting or killing Harris, 54, of Fallowfield Township, that night.

Vasquez, who was second in line behind Huff, insisted there was a gun in a holster on Harris’ hip. This portion of his testimony appeared to violate an order by Common Pleas Judge John DiSalle. The order barred information about one or more guns Harris allegedly had on his person at the time of the incident. DiSalle did tell jurors to ignore a reference to how Harris wasn’t supposed to possesses a gun, apparently because part of the order prohibited testimony about a prior conviction against Harris.

Deputy District Attorney Jason Walsh pressed Vasquez, including on the assertion that it was a coincidence that they’d walked into the bar single file and attacked Harris as a group before he had time so much to get out of his chair.

“This wasn’t about Troy Harris disrespecting you when you walked in that bar and you know it,” Walsh said.

Vasquez said he knew “how dangerous of a person Troy Harris is.”

“Sir, we’re lucky somebody didn’t get shot and killed,” Vasquez added.

“You are lucky someone didn’t get killed, and it’s Troy Harris,” Walsh countered.

Among the government’s witnesses earlier in the trial was Paul Cochran, 55, one of the Pagans who were charged in the case. Earlier in the trial, he testified the group’s national sergeant at arms, Michael Barringer, had ordered the bikers to “teach (Harris) a lesson” because he’d provoked them by encroaching on their territory by being at the Slovak Club.

Vasquez, sergeant at arms of the Fayette City chapter, said there’d been no order or plan to attack or kill Harris that night. Instead, he’d gotten a call from his then-fiancée, Jamie Granato, who quickly put his friend Zachary Yagnich on the line. Yagnich told him he was thinking of going to the Slovak Club and that Harris would be there. Vasquez said Harris was a bully who’d humiliated and embarrassed Yagnich – a Pagan supporter – since Harris was thrown out of the club about five years earlier. Yagnich didn’t stand up for himself, so Vasquez’s presence stopped Harris from picking on him.

Yagnich, vice president of the members-only social hall, was waiting for them in the parking lot and led them in, unlocking the door for them.

Vasquez said Harris happened to be sitting in the path the group took on the way to the spot they wanted, where they could face the door. But once he struck Harris, he found himself in a scuffle for the handgun Harris went on to pull after suffering two blows. “Gun!” Vasquez said he shouted. They were both on the ground for a time, but Vasquez said he managed to get back on his feet.

Meanwhile, others from the crew were landing kicks on Harris. Among the witnesses whose testimony Vasquez contradicted was Michele Mackey Harris’. She’d said that she was on the ground with her husband, but saw no one else there. Other witnesses had similarly said that they didn’t see the assailants go down.

“Sir, none of those guys were actually able to see what was happening below the bar,” Vasquez said of those who’d been elsewhere in the room.

Vasquez also denied allegations by Granato, now another state witness, that he’d been physically abusive to her during their five-year relationship.

Huff, Barringer, and most others charged in the case already entered pleas in deals with prosecutors. Vasquez said the other men did so because they didn’t expect to get a fair trial.

Earlier on Thursday, Terry Katz, a retired lieutenant for the Maryland State Police, testified as the prosecution’s final witness. Katz spent several years undercover infiltrating the Pagans and now works for the agency as a civilian. He testified as an expert on motorcycle gangs.

Katz said members of one such “one-percenter” club would generally retaliate against someone who left their group to join a rival club and then encroached on their turf.

“In the most extreme cases, you might have serious injury resulting in death,” Katz said.

Colafella asked if it would be a “big deal” to take action against a member of an officer in a club.

“No,” said Katz,”it’s what you do, being in an outlaw motorcycle gang.”

Walsh later asked Vasquez about Katz’s description of outlaw motorcycle culture. Vasquez said times have changed.

“It’s not all outlaw and criminal behavior and all that stuff that everybody thinks it is,” he said.


Localnews
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Bethel Park woman runs through health issues

To say Marie Bartoletti possesses a passion for running is an understatement. The Bethel Park woman has completed 481 marathons – 180 of them after suffering a stroke a little more than four years ago.

When asked how she has been able to accomplish such amazing achievements, the 62-year-old grandmother hangs her head. Softly and slowly she says, “I don’t know.”

Only twice in her life has Bartoletti ever been uncertain about keeping up the pace.

The first instance occurred more than 30 years ago. While teaching physical education at Sacred Heart school, her students asked her if she wanted to run a 10-kilometer race with them.

“I never ran one mile before,” Bartoletti answered.

But, she did it.

Although she struggled to cover the six miles, she completed her first City of Pittsburgh’s Great Race. She admitted that three miles in she was “huffing and puffing” because she had only trained for that distance. She decided to increase her workouts.

“That’s why I started running marathons,” she explained.

Bartoletti hasn’t stopped.

She completed her first long-distance run again on the city streets. On May 7, 1995, she finished the Pittsburgh Marathon in 4:01:48, much to the delight of the faculty and students at Ringgold High School, where she was working as a substitute.

As her teaching career blossomed, so did her marathon exposure.

Bartoletti taught PE at Pleasant Hills Middle School and McClellan Elementary School at West Jefferson Hills. She also coached volleyball, track and tennis at Thomas Jefferson High School. Within that school district, she helped establish the Kids Of Steel Program in Pittsburgh. The initiative, which started with 345 participants and has grown to 8,000, encouraged young runners. They would train for four months, building up from one to 25 miles to complete their 26th mile during the Kids Marathon.

It was in 2003 that a parent of one of Bartoletti’s fifth-graders nominated her for a competition that would feature the winner on a Wheaties Energy Crunch cereal box. As one of five finalists among 5,000, Bartoletti not only earned a trip to New York City, she met Mary Lou Retton. The Olympic gold medal gymnast announced Bartoletti as the winner. She was awarded a $10,000 prize, which she donated to the American Heart Association.

Bartoletti then adjusted her running goals. She set out to complete a marathon in every state, accomplishing the feat from 2004-05, culminating Dec. 11 in Honolulu, Hawaii.

In between and in the years leading up to her medical emergency, Bartoletti raced around the world. She was honored with a medal for completing six of the major marathons in the world: Boston, Chicago, New York City, London, Berlin and Tokyo. She posted her best time ever, 3:41, at age 50 during the Boston Marathon. Bartoletti also ran in an Ultramarathon (56 miles or 90 kilometers) in South Africa, and even competed in the World Championship Ironman in Kona, Hawaii, completing that triathlon in under 15 hours (14:50:27).

However, 26 marathons into the 2015 calendar year, and shortly after finishing her 300th race, Bartoletti faced her second moment of uncertainty.

Struck down

On Thanksgiving Day, while on a trip back home to Kalamazoo, Mich., John Rossetti knew something was wrong with his significant other. As a fireman, he recognized the first signs of stroke and immediately called for an ambulance. Though she was administered the clot-breaking drug TPA, Bartoletti incurred injuries that impacted her speech significantly and limited her physical abilities. She had suffered an ischemic stroke that blocked her left medial cerebral artery. Her right hand is compromised. She lost strength in her right foot.

After six days, the hospital discharged Bartoletti and less than a week after her stroke, she went for a six-mile run. Two months later, she ran a marathon in Miami in 5:30.

“Amazing,” said Rossetti, “but that’s Marie. She is literally the toughest person mentally I know ... She is very humble, and her low-key personality is more an inspiration to me than those that go around bragging.”

In 2019, Bartoletti finished 59 marathons, including five in five days. She also competed in last year’s prestigious Athens Marathon, which replicates the original distance covered during the Battle of Marathon in 490 B.C.

With each race, her times have decreased. While she is still off her best, pre-stroke pace of 4:04, she placed first in the Bahamas Marathon in mid-January with a 4:43 time.

More impressive is how Bartoletti has turned her limitations into new career opportunities, unable to teach because of her cognitive issues.

“I can’t teach,” she said sadly. “I love to teach.”

After months of speech therapy, Bartoletti taught herself how to talk again and how to work. She renewed her long-lapsed lifeguarding certification and works at Spencer YMCA in Bethel Park and the Community Recreation Center in Upper St. Clair.

Noting all strokes are different and affect various areas of the brain, Bartoletti explained her sickness did not affect her motor skills. That was why she was able to resume running right away.

Through reflection, Bartoletti is coming to grips with her circumstances. When she goes for a training run, she “thinks” and recites “prayers.” She also says she has prayed while swimming.

“I owe a lot to him,” she said as she points skyward.

Her father inspired her athleticism and instilled her determination. Bartoletti is the third of Rosemary and Richard Soisson’s seven children and first daughter.

“My dad’s my inspiration,” said Bartoletti. “He was so strong. Mentally,” she added of the 91-year-old who died in 2009.

Marie the Pacer

Today, Bartoletti inspires runners through pacing. While her normal pace is 4:45 for a marathon and 4:15 for a mile, she runs with others to help them reach their goals.

“I love pacing. I love running with people,” she said.

People are equally enthused about Bartoletti and her kindness in sharing her time and talents.

“Marie is not only passionate about her own running,” said Linda Smith. “She is passionate about sharing her knowledge and experiences to inspire others to train and compete as well.”

The Spencer YMCA membership navigator also noted that Bartoletti is quick to offer training tips if members mention they are preparing for a race. She’ll even run with them, particularly if it is their first race.

Bartoletti values the time spent pacing because she is able to see other people accomplish their goals.

“Yes, yes,” she said enthusiastically about her favorite aspect of pacing. She added, “I love people. All kinds. Little and big kids.”

Of course, Bartoletti loves her family most. She had two sons with her husband, Mark Bartlett, and has three grandchildren, with a fourth on the way.

Bartoletti is also a published author. She penned a novel that details how she overcame her situation. Proceeds from “Perseverance” are donated to the American Stroke Association. She noted the book’s title along with a positive mental outlook enabled her to “get through” the stroke. Through speaking engagements as well as interviews, she offers sage advice.

To runners tackling their first race or marathon, she said, “Take your time and just have fun.”

To stroke survivors, she said, “No matter how bad it is, you will get through it. Never give up.”

She added she didn’t really know how she’s done it herself.

“Sheer determination,” she speculated.


Politics
AP
Trump unleashes impeachment fury in acquittal 'celebration'

WASHINGTON – Exulting in his impeachment acquittal, a defiant President Donald Trump took a scorched-earth victory lap Thursday, unleashing his fury against those who tried to remove him from office and pointing ahead to his reelection campaign.

Triumphantly waving newspaper front pages that declared him “ACQUITTED,” Trump denounced the impeachment proceedings as a “disgrace” and portrayed himself as a victim of political foes he labeled “scum,” “sleaze bags” and “crooked” people. Hours earlier, he unleashed broadsides that stunned the crowd at an annual bipartisan prayer breakfast

“It was evil, it was corrupt, it was dirty cops,” Trump declared in a packed White House East Room, where he was surrounded by several hundred of his most loyal supporters. “This should never ever happen to another president, ever.”

He conceded nothing in regard to charges that he improperly withheld a White House meeting and U.S. military aid in an effort to pressure Ukraine to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden and other political matters.

“We went through hell, unfairly,” he insisted. “Did nothing wrong.”

His comments were a clear sign that, post-impeachment, Trump is emboldened like never before as he barrels ahead in his reelection fight with a united Republican Party behind him. And his remarks stood in stark contrast to the apology offered by President Bill Clinton when he faced the American people in the aftermath of his own impeachment acquittal in 1999.

In a brief Rose Garden address, Clinton was somber: “I want to say again to the American people how profoundly sorry I am for what I said and did to trigger these events and the great burden they have imposed on the Congress and on the American people.”

The only contrition Trump offered was to his own family, apologizing “for having them go through a phony, rotten deal.”

Trump had plenty else to say, however. Venting for more than an hour, he ticked off names of the “vicious and mean” people he felt had wronged him: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff and former FBI Director James Comey. And he reveled in the verdict handed down by the GOP-controlled Senate Wednesday, saluting one-by-one in Oscar acceptance speech-fashion the “warrior” GOP lawmakers who had backed him both in the Capitol and on television.

“Now we have that gorgeous word. I never thought it would sound so good,” Trump said. “It’s called ‘total acquittal.’”

One person unmentioned: Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, whose involvement with Ukraine helped drive Trump’s push for investigations that led to his becoming just the third president in U.S, history to be impeached by the House.

Trump’s remarks, delivered with the aid of scribbled notes but no teleprompter, served as a dramatic contrast to his State of the Union address earlier this week. Standing before Congress Tuesday night, Trump hewed closely to his script and offered an optimistic message to the country with no mention of impeachment.

This time, his remarks were rambling and replete with profane language, comedic interludes and plenty of tangents and asides. He ribbed Ohio Rep. James Jordan, a college wrestling champion, for rarely wearing a suit jacket, saying, “He’s obviously very proud of his body.”

“This is really not a press conference. It’s not a speech. It’s not anything,” Trump remarked at one point. “It’s a celebration.”

He declared that the Republican Party had never been more unified and predicted momentum from the acquittal would carry him to reelection this November.

But he also predicted that he may have to fend off another impeachment challenge, perhaps for something as trivial as jaywalking.

“We’ll probably have to do it again because these people have gone stone-cold crazy,” the president said.

Earlier Thursday, Trump shattered the usual veneer of bipartisanship at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington by unleashing his fury against those who tried to impeach him, with Pelosi sitting on stage.

“As everybody knows, my family, our great country and your president have been put through a terrible ordeal by some very dishonest and corrupt people,” Trump said at the annual event.

His remarks were especially jarring coming after a series of Scripture-quoting speeches, including a keynote address by Arthur Brooks, a Harvard professor and president of a conservative think tank, who had bemoaned a “crisis of contempt and polarization” in the nation and urged those gathered to ”love your enemies.”

“I don’t know if I agree with you,” Trump said as he took the microphone, and then he proceeded to demonstrate it.

“I don’t like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong,” he said in an apparent reference to Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, a longtime Trump critic who cited his faith in becoming the only Republican to vote for Trump’s removal.

“Nor do I like people who say ‘I pray for you’ when you know that is not so,’” he said, in a reference to Pelosi, who has offered that message for the president when the two leaders have sparred publicly.

The House speaker, who shook her head at various points during Trump’s remarks, later told reporters they were “so completely inappropriate, especially at a prayer breakfast.” She took particular issue with his swipe at Romney’s faith and said that, yes, she does pray for the president.

Trump later said he “meant every word.”

The president and his allies have been on a victory lap since Wednesday, gloating publicly and behind closed doors.

Indeed, the night of the impeachment vote was one of revelry for members of the president’s circle. In Washington, many, including Trump’s eldest son, Donald Jr,, the son’s girlfriend, former Fox News host Kimberly Guilfoyle, and the president’s former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, gathered at the president’s hotel a few blocks from the White House, one of the few MAGA safe zones in the deeply Democratic city.

The president himself remained at the White House but worked the phones, calling confidants.

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Follow Colvin on Twitter at https://twitter.com/colvinj, Lemire at http://twitter.com/@JonLemire and Miller at http://twitter.com/@zekejmiller