Reading police are starting the new year with two separate homicide investigations. Both killings happened early Tuesday morning in different parts of the city.
The latest homicide involved three men in an SUV that crashed into a fence outside the Elia Auto Service body shop near North Ninth and Exeter streets around 4 a.m., police said.
"We had a call from my son. The police had called him. There was some damage and they wanted to know if we had the cameras on," said Ralph Elia, Elia Auto Body, who was unsure whether the cameras were rolling.
One of the victims, Najeeb Johnson, 34, was dead at the scene; the other suffered a graze wound, police said. The third man was not injured.
Police said they believe the shooting actually happened a few blocks away in the 900 block of Amity Street.
"They reported that they stopped, asked that male for directions or asked if he knows where the bar was and he pulled out a gun and started shooting at them," said Sgt. Matthew Schappell, Reading Police Dept, who added that the men were attempting to pick up an acquaintance at a bar in the area.
Around 90 minutes earlier, police said two men were shot in the 100 block of South Third Street.
One of the victims, Luis Medina, 21, was dead on the sidewalk; the other was transported to Reading Hospital, police said. The surviving victim was last reported to be in stable condition.
"I think many of these individual who were in the area were very intoxicated, and the investigators are trying to piece together what took place," said Berks County District Attorney John Adams.
The latest homicides, including one early Saturday morning, are part of an increasing crime trend that is taxing the Reading Police Department, which has endured crushing layoffs over the past few years. The time has come, he said, to put more uniformed officers back on the streets.
"And having more officers on the street would be a deterrent effect to these individuals who were engaging in senseless acts of violence," said Adams.
Police have not released names of the surviving victims or identified motives for the killings.
Anyone with information that can help police in their investigations of the homicides can call Crime Alert Berks County at 877-373-9913. The crime stoppers organization is offering a cash reward of up to $10,000 for information that leads to an arrest in either homicide.