Coroner file photo

Lawrence County Coroner Rich ‘R.J.’ Johnson talks with a state police trooper outside of a home in New Wilmington where a double homicide occurred in February, 2021.

Lawrence County logged a record year in 2021 for homicides, with 10 reported by the county coroner’s office and one where a murder was committed in New Wilmington but the victim died out of county in the hospital. Six of the deaths were within the city of New Castle. Two of the deaths, one in Mahoning Township and one in Union Township, were the results of shots fired by police. Neither officer faced charges in connection with those incidents. “Anytime there’s an officer-involved shooting death, we rule it a homicide,” Coroner Rich “R.J.” Johnson explained. The dictionary definition of homicide is the killing of one person by another.” New Castle police chief Bobby Salem said within the past 11 years, the city has had 45 homicides and all but two of those have been solved, either with charges or determinations of self-defense. The two unsolved cases remain open and active, he said. One is the murder of 22-year-old Dakota Olinger, who was shot in the head at a house on Franklin Avenue on the city’s East Side on Sept. 29, 2017. The police have offered a reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible for Olinger’s death. The other unsolved murder is the death of 26-year-old Vaughn Slaughter, who was from Detroit. He had been fatally shot in the neck and head the evening of June 26, 2016. He was found dead just after the shooting occurred. He was in the passenger seat of a vehicle parked on Walnut Street by someone who thought he had heard fireworks. In comparison to the six cases this year, the city had three homicides in 2020, four in 2019, and six in 2018, Salem said. “There are a couple of years when we had seven or eight,” Salem said. “The year 2013 was the only one when there were no homicides in the city, and there was only one both in 2015 and in 2017.” Johnson said that 2021 overall was busy for his office, with 886 total incidents logged, including 108 deaths determined to have been from natural causes. There also were nine deaths from motor vehicle accidents, 15 accidental deaths from falls, explosions, fires and electrocutions and three cases still pending. When it’s not handling deaths, the coroner’s office continues its education in advancements, Johnson said. In 2021, he and his deputies attended more than 100 hours of training in classes of forensic crime scene investigations, motor vehicle collision reconstruction, crime scene photography, investigating drug deaths, traumatic injuries and firearms investigations. Johnson and his chief deputy, Anthony “Bo” DeCarbo, also successfully completed a week-long coroner’s training offered by the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General. Johnson also maintained his status as a board-certified medico-legal death investigator.

Lawrence County logged a record year in 2021 for homicides, with 10 reported by the county coroner’s office and one where a murder was committed in New Wilmington but the victim died out of county in the hospital.

Six of the deaths were within the city of New Castle.

Two of the deaths, one in Mahoning Township and one in Union Township, were the results of shots fired by police. Neither officer faced charges in connection with those incidents.

“Anytime there’s an officer-involved shooting death, we rule it a homicide,” Coroner Rich “R.J.” Johnson explained. “The dictionary definition of homicide is the killing of one person by another.”

New Castle police chief Bobby Salem said within the past 11 years, the city has had 45 homicides and all but two of those have been solved, either with charges or determinations of self-defense.

The two unsolved cases remain open and active, he said.

One is the murder of 22-year-old Dakota Olinger, who was shot in the head at a house on Franklin Avenue on the city’s East Side on Sept. 29, 2017.

The police have offered a reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible for Olinger’s death.

The other unsolved murder is the death of 26-year-old Vaughn Slaughter, who was from Detroit.

He had been fatally shot in the neck and head the evening of June 26, 2016.

He was found dead just after the shooting occurred. He was in the passenger seat of a vehicle parked on Walnut Street by someone who thought he had heard fireworks.

In comparison to the six cases this year, the city had three homicides in 2020, four in 2019, and six in 2018, Salem said.

“There are a couple of years when we had seven or eight,” Salem said.

“The year 2013 was the only one when there were no homicides in the city, and there was only one both in 2015 and in 2017.”

Johnson said that 2021 overall was busy for his office, with 886 total incidents logged, including 108 deaths determined to have been from natural causes.

There also were nine deaths from motor vehicle accidents, 15 accidental deaths from falls, explosions, fires and electrocutions and three cases still pending.

When it’s not handling deaths, the coroner’s office continues its education in advancements, Johnson said.

In 2021, he and his deputies attended more than 100 hours of training in classes of forensic crime scene investigations, motor vehicle collision reconstruction, crime scene photography, investigating drug deaths, traumatic injuries and firearms investigations.

Johnson and his chief deputy, Anthony “Bo” DeCarbo, also successfully completed a week-long coroner’s training offered by the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General. Johnson also maintained his status as a board-certified medico-legal death investigator.

dwachter@ncnewsonline.com

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Debbie's been a journalist at the New Castle News since 1978, and covers county government, police and fire, New Castle schools, environment and various other realms. She also writes features, takes photos and video and copy edits.

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