Man accused of shooting best friend: ‘If I could trade places with him, I would'

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GREENSBURG, Pa. —

A Hempfield man accused of fatally shooting a man inside his Greensburg home early Tuesday morning said the killing was accidental.

Fidel O. Velez, 27, was fatally shot once in the chest at a friend's home on Swede Hill Road, according to the Westmoreland County Coroner's Office.

Police have charged the homeowner, Eric James Fennell, 32, with criminal homicide.

Fennell originally told police that Velez accidentally shot himself, but later changed his story. He then said he accidentally shot Velez in the torso, according to the criminal complaint.

“Me and my friend were playing with a gun and it accidentally went off. It hit (Velez) in the chest. It was really, really, really senseless,” Fennell told Channel 11’s Joe Holden.

Neighbors told police they heard more than one gunshot.

“(I heard) three gunshots. They were fast,” Donna Jean Lopes said.

According to police, Fennell and his girlfriend drove Velez to Excela Health Westmoreland Hospital in Greensburg, where he died at about 2:20 a.m. Tuesday. An autopsy is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon.

“If I could trade places with him, I would,” Fennell said.

Following his arraignment, Fennell publicly apologized to the victim's family.

“He was my best friend, and all of the sympathy in my heart goes out to the Velez family,” Fennell said. “I can’t believe anything like this could even happen.”

Investigators said while they were investigating Fennell’s home, they found a sophisticated marijuana growing operation. Channel 11's Joe Holden (@WPXIJoeHolden) tweeted a picture of the operation.

https://twitter.com/WPXIJoeHolden/status/425721479658225664

“There were dozens of plants set up in the basement of the house,” Pennsylvania State Trooper Steve Limani said.

According to police, officers also found a cobra, dogs, cats, a tarantula and more drugs inside the home.