Jan. 20, 1:06 p.m.
Wilson Avenue is cold and dark in the early afternoon as Detective Sgt. Michael Cox and his partner, Detective Sgt. George Anderson, along with Patrolman Brad Ditullio of the Crime Lab, wait for someone to open the main gate at Ludt’s, where cars impounded by the police department are stored. The three are there to search an SUV they believe was used in the Jan. 5 murders of Marcus Whitted and Kylearia Day, both 19. They were shot and killed in a car Whitted was driving on Interstate 680 North.
In the three weeks since the murders, detectives have some leads. They believe Whitted and Day were killed because of a feud on the internet between Whitted and the people who killed his brother in an April 2022 shooting on Mohawk Avenue that also wounded a woman and a 3-year-old girl.
The day after the two were killed, the detectives managed to get video from a store showing the car Whitted was driving about to turn onto Edwards Avenue, just before the freeway. Also on the video was an SUV following the car, which the investigators believe to be a Volkswagen Tiguan.
A similar Tiguan had been reported stolen from a car rental agency in Sharon, Pa., and had been chased by patrol officers but managed to get away. Cox learned who rented the SUV and drove to New Castle to talk to her, but while she admitted renting the SUV, she did not know any of the people police consider suspects in the murders.
A few days before, Cox and Anderson found the SUV in Austintown after the rental agency traced its location via GPS. It was towed to a dealership in Boardman before it was sent to Ludt’s to be searched while detectives worked on a warrant, which was approved. But while they found the SUV, they could not find a better day to search it. Light snow is being blown around by a wind that resists all efforts to keep it at bay, no matter how many layers one has on. It is also very dark, and throughout the afternoon, the sounds of trains on the riverbank behind Ludt’s and sirens from ambulances and police cars on the nearby Himrod Avenue Expressway provide a constant soundtrack to work by.
The gate opens as a gust of wind blows snow around Wilson Avenue. The detectives and DiTullio find the SUV locked. A Ludt’s employee uses a tool to pry open the driver’s side door, and once it is opened, the almost overpowering, pungent smell of raw marijuana is released into the air. The door opening also sets off the horn, which overpowers the sound of the wind for a while before the Ludt’s employee figures out a way to turn it off.
On the passenger’s side right next to the gas tank is a bullet hole and by the back passenger window is a groove in the metal that looks like it was made by a bullet that skimmed through it. Cox said he believes someone was firing out of that window and hit their own gas tank, because a piece of the gas tank is missing. At the crime scene, police found no guns in Whitted’s car, and he tested negative for gunshot residue, so there is no way he was returning fire when he was shot at.
Cox finds a bullet inside the back passenger’s door when it is opened, and someone left a phone charger inside. Other than the smell, the SUV is very clean. Cox confers with Ditullio and they decide to swab the interior of the car for gunshot residue (which was found) and also for DNA.
For DNA, Ditullio swabs where it is thought a person would be in contact with the interior.
The SUV is parked next to a blue Buick that was involved in an unrelated shooting and has a bullet hole in both sides and the hood. There are other cars there either damaged by gunfire or mangled in crashes, metal and wires twisted at improbable angles.
As Ditullio swabs, Cox searches. He finds a bottle of Clorox in the hatchback and then pushes the back seats all the way forward to look underneath them. That is where Cox finds a spent 7.62mm casing — the kind of ammunition commonly fired by AK-47-type semiautomatic rifles. That type of round was also one of two fired at Whitted’s car. The other was .45-caliber. The casing is found behind the back seat.
Also found in the hatchback is a bag of flour wrapped up in a Family Dollar bag.
Because of the bullet damage to the gas tank, Cox decides to search under the SUV, in the undercarriage, to see if he can find any pieces of a spent bullet. He grabs a large box, tears it apart, and places it on the cold ground so he can lie on it without getting his clothes wet. He searches underneath for several minutes but finds nothing.
Cox and Anderson continue searching while DiTullio now begins to swab for gunshot residue. They find two more live bullets — .40 caliber rounds — in the back seat by the driver’s side door.
The day grows darker, windier and colder as the search continues. When it’s done, the Tiguan joins the other vehicles in the lot. How long it will stay there is anyone’s guess.
This story is part four of a series of stories on the killings on Interstate 680 in January 2023.