Fundraiser plans to establish scholarship in memory of Penn Township couple killed last year

As the one-year anniversary of the shooting deaths of Jacob Erdeljac and Mara Casale near Penn Township, Liz Amend said it couldn’t be easier for the family to wonder why the couple’s lives had been shortened.

“I’m still in limbo. … My head knows what happened, but my heart doesn’t. As May 16 approaches, I know my anxiety is growing every day,” said Amend, who is 18 months older than his brother, who people knew as Jake.

“He wasn’t just my younger brother, he was actually one of my best friends, and we miss them both dearly. It’s hard to put into words,” Amend said of Plum.

Erdeljac, 40, and his girlfriend Casale, 27, were shot and killed on May 16, 2021. Police said their deaths were part of a series of crimes committed by Victor Frederick Steban, 54, of North Huntingdon.

Steban is accused of ambushing the couple when they returned to Erdeljac’s home after a motorbike ride on Sunday afternoon. Investigators said Steban also fired into occupied homes in Hempfield and Sewickley townships, burned his house, robbed and robbed the victims and threatened a motorist.

The district attorney’s office announced last summer that it would seek the death penalty against Steban, who was arrested two days after the murders. During a preliminary hearing in May, testimony indicated that Steban accused Erdeljac of breaking up with his girlfriend.

A trial date has not been set.

“They were two beautiful people. Mara had a bright light about her and I know it’s a cliché, but her smile lit up the room and they loved each other,” Amend said.

“Everyone they met immediately became their friends, and people will tell you that one or the other would give their back shirt to help you. Jake… he was passionate about certain things,” Amend said.

One love was Mara, Amend said.

“Jake also loved his job as a lineman at Duquesne Light Co., where he had worked for 17 years, and he loved riding motorcycles. He’s been across the country a couple of times, and in their free time on the weekends, Jake and Mara would ride their bikes together on sunny days,” Amend said.

Amend said when family members were thinking of a potential benefit to commemorate the couple, they decided to organize a fundraising motorcycle ride that will begin at 10:30 a.m. on June 18. It will start in the Z&M Harley-Davidson parking lot on Route 30 in Hempfield. .

The proceeds will create a scholarship fund for incoming linemen at Duquesne Light, Amend said.

The ride is called “Ride in Peace Jake and Mara,” she said.

The couple had been together for more than two years.

“Jake used to stop at Ski’s & Nick’s Lounge, a tavern on Route 130 in Penn Township, which is near his home. That’s where Mara worked, and once they met, they knew,” Amend said.

She said Erdeljac – a graduate of Penn Hills High School, where he played football – was promoted to transmission and distribution supervisor by Duquesne Light before his death.

“He had credited his work at Duquesne Light with giving him so much in his life. What better way can you commemorate them both than by potentially benefiting a young person and giving them a new opportunity in life? Amend said.

Casale was a Penn-Trafford graduate.

The ride will take “a few hours” and then return to the Z&M parking lot in the afternoon, where raffle tickets, 50-50 raffles, and food and drink will be available.

On the day of the ride, registration begins at 8 a.m. and will cost $20 for single riders, $30 for couples. Advance registration is suggested. Non-riders are welcome at the afternoon event. Admission cost is $15.

More information on registration and the ride is available by emailing [email protected] or by visiting the Facebook page for the “Ride in peace Jake and Mara” event.

“Anyone who knew him will tell you, Jake knew how to throw a party, and we’re planning on doing it on June 18,” Amend said. “The past year has not been easy. It was definitely a life-changing event for everyone who knew them.

Paul Peirce is a staff writer for Tribune-Review. You can contact Paul at 724-850-2860, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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