The car, carrying two young males, crashed into the front steps of Poale Zedeck in Squirrel Hill, reaching as high as the first landing and avoiding the actual building. No one was injured.
The driver has been identified as Adam Disabato, 30, of Forward Avenue, Squirrel Hill, who claimed to congregants who restrained him that he was the messiah.
Police charged Disabato with accidents involving damage to attended vehicle or property (two counts), reckless driving,
limitations on overtaking on the left, driving vehicle at a safe speed, institutional vandalism, driving on right side of roadway, and recklessly endangering another person.
As of 2:30 p.m., Desabato was still being held at the Allegheny County Jail, a spokeswoman said.
According to witnesses, the two men exited the heavily damaged car and started running up Shady Ave. as congregants, who were inside the synagogue davening, came outside. About a dozen congregants chased the men and both were quickly apprehended and held until police arrived.
"We are extremely fortunate that no one was injured or killed in this accident,” said Shields. “I have personally witnessed children playing on the steps many times, and I don’t want to take the chance of this happening again.”
Rocky Wice was the second congregant to reach the car’s driver, who had run just a few houses up the street.
“We held him down and he was ranting about how God sent him, saying ‘God is my father and I love the Jews,’” said Wice. “He did not struggle. He was very incoherent.”
The initial impact of the crash made “the whole building shudder,” said Wice. “Outside, we saw the car emitting large quantities of steam and liquid.”
Both men were held on the ground peacefully by Poale Zedeck congregants; the police and fire department arrived shortly thereafter.
“Police immediately rolled them and cuffed them,” said Wice.
Shields asked the Department of Public Works to erect an appropriate barrier to assure the safety of pedestrians and the people who worship and/or work at the synagogue.
The councilman said he spoke about the incident with Zone 4 Police Commander Kathy Degler, who informed him that at the present time, the police investigation does not indicate that this was a hate crime but rather a case of reckless driving. She assured him that they will continue to follow-up on leads.
"Police contacted the JTTF (Joint Terrorism Task Force–FBI) to alert them to this incident," according to a police statement. "At this time the investigation is not leaning toward being considered a hate crime."
In addition to demanding improved safety measures, Shields plans to formally recognize in City Council the witnesses who acted quickly to detain the driver and passenger at the scene.
“Their bravery may have well saved other lives,” Shields said.
(Justin Jacobs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Chronicle will continue to update this story as new information becomes available.)