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Police investigate 5th homicide in Johnstown this year

In less than a week's time, police in Johnstown are investigating their second homicide -- an early-morning stabbing that killed a young woman.

Police said the victim's estranged boyfriend is accused of killing her and now the search is on to track him down.

It happened just before 5 a.m. at the Dollar Car wash along Bridge Street in Moxham. Police said Demetrius Gibson stabbed and killed Elizabeth Miller, 21, after a domestic dispute. Witnesses told police Gibson took Miller's Trail Blazer and drove away, abandoning it at the top of Forest Avenue.

Gibson is still on the run but criminal homicide charges are pending against him while police continue their search.

It is the fifth homicide in Johnstown this year and the second in less than a week. Oftentimes police say they're the result of drugs -- addiction problems or deals gone bad. But this case is different.

Police said they don't believe drugs were involved. The coroner said the victim and the suspect had been in an off-and-on again relationship and had cases of domestic abuse in the past.

"It's not as if this is somebody coming in from out of town and doing drugs in our area. This is just a domestic crime that has been around for a long time," said Cambria County Coroner Dennis Kwiatkowski. "Women and men in that situation have to realize there is a time to get out of those situations and get to a safe place."

After months of hard work and brainstorming, the Johnstown Drug and Violent Crime Commission released its findings a couple weeks ago. Officials said the city needed more police and could improve upon housing, education and rehabilitative programs. But now, a month later, where does the city stand? 6 News asked that question on Tuesday.

"It was a nice neighborhood when I was growing up but it completely changed," said Dave Seganos, who lives in Moxham. "It's evident drugs is the reason why there is so much trouble here."

It's a sentiment heard all too often from people who live in Johnstown. With five homicides already this year and an increase in other violent crimes, police officers said they've reached out for help.

"We do work with the safe streets so they're involved in almost every serious incident we have and we have used the county detectives also," said Johnstown Police Capt. Andrew Frear. "We'd be willing to use state police for assistance."

The Johnstown Drug and Violent Crime Commission was formed earlier this year to come up with ways to make the city a safer place to live. The findings were released in a report in July.

"We've been working on it," said Johnstown Mayor Thomas Trigona. "We already had two meetings on the crime report and another coming up on the 21st. It's going quite well."

"Obviously a lot of those issues had funding problems," said Cambria County assistant district attorney Heath Long. "That's something they need to figure out."

But police said none of the homicides are related and they could happen anywhere.

"Some of these incidents aren't things we have any ability to control or try to stop," said Frear. "I mean education and things like that, but other than that they could happen anywhere."

"I'm not sure what else you can say to prevent (these crimes)," said Trigona. "It's hard to be proactive in preventing a murder between two people."

"We've had time periods like this before where there's been a rash of violent crimes and then nothing for six months and it picks up again," said Long. "Rhyme or reason? You can't tell."

Trigona told 6 News that he's confident the city is close to hiring more officers. City council will be meeting again to discuss the issue in a couple of weeks.

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Edgar Snyder

Washington Times