WILKES-BARRE – The two photos police released of a vehicle suspected in the hit-and-run death of 5-year-old Kevin Miller were taken by cameras on private businesses, causing the head of the city's Crime Watch Coalition to question the quality of the citywide camera system.
Charlotte Raup said at least five cameras operated by Hawkeye Security Systems are located in the area where Miller was struck, including one directly across from the accident scene at West North and North Franklin streets.
Yet authorities relied on photos taken by cameras owned by King's College and local businessman Thom Greco to try to identify the car.
We've spent so much money on these, we should at least have been able to get a license plate, Raup said. Why were the other cameras better?
Questions were also raised by Anthony Antonello, a Pittston resident who posted a video to YouTube on Thursday. The video shows several city cameras at intersections where the vehicle suspected of being involved in the hit-and-run traveled.
When I heard King's College and Thom Greco were the only photos released, a red flag went off. The city paid so much for these cameras. How come they did not show one shot from a city camera? Antonello asked.
Drew McLaughlin, the city's administrative coordinator, said the Hawkeye cameras did capture shots of the vehicle and provided crucial information to authorities about the path it took. Police opted to release the private photos because they provided the best full spectrum view of the car.
The perception is that if we did not have these private images, there would be no images. That's simply not true, McLaughlin said. The investigators have experience in hit-and-run investigations and they made the decision of what was the best image to put out to the public.
The photos, coupled with tips from two unnamed sources, led police on Friday to seize a Pontiac Grand Am and identify Tom Letteer Jr. of Plains Township as a person of interest in the case.
Raup suspects the photos from the city cameras were not of high enough quality to be of any use.
McLaughlin disputed that, saying the city has other photos from the city cameras, as well as other private cameras, that were used in the investigation.
Asked if the city would release those photos, McLaughlin said it does not release footage that can be used as evidence in a criminal prosecution.
This is an open investigation, he said.
As to why the city cameras could not get a license plate number, McLaughlin said the cameras have the ability to zoom in on a subject, but that's not possible in cases such as a hit-and-run, which happens in a split second.
One of the photos that was publicly released was shot by cameras attached to the exterior of Greco's building at East North Street and Pennsylvania Avenue.
Gus Genetti, Greco's uncle, is knowledgeable about camera systems and chose the system attached to that building.
Genetti, who sits on the volunteer board of directors of Hawkeye Security Systems, said he doesn't believe the quality of his cameras played any role in the fact they got the best shot.
I'm quite familiar with the Hawkeye cameras and their capabilities. Their cameras are 100 times better than mine. They're digital and can pan, tilt and zoom in, he said.
His cameras are analogue and don't have panning or zooming ability, he said.
Genetti said one factor that may have played a role is that the Hawkeye cameras are set to cover a wide area, whereas his are more focused on the sidewalk. He believes it was sheer luck they got the shot they did.
I don't think there should be any criticism of Hawkeye. They picked up what they needed to pick up, he said.