One year later: brutal double murder shakes Penn Township, shatters two families

PENN TOWNSHIP, Pa. — One year ago, Penn Township was rocked by a brutal double murder.

It led to a manhunt across Westmoreland County and shattered the lives of two families.

“I’ll tell you, holidays are definitely different,” said Zach Erdeljac, the brother of one of the victims. “They haven’t been the same.”

Zach and his family had a quiet Easter. He said it is hard to celebrate anymore with an empty seat at the table. His brother Jacob is gone after becoming the victim of a horrific crime.

On May 16, 2021, prosecutors said Victor Steban shot and killed 41-year-old Jacob Erdeljac and Jacob’s girlfriend, 27-year-old Mara Carsale, in Penn Township as they came home from a motorcycle ride.

Steban claimed to have a past issue with Jacob.

Zach remembers getting the news from his wife at work.

“She just told me bad news: ‘Jake and Mara, they’re dead. They’ve been killed,’” he said. “And it was just kind of … how do you handle something like that, you know what I mean?”

Zach still asks himself how another person could be cruel enough to kill.

“What in their life happened to them that makes them think that’s OK?” he asked. “That’s what’s hard for me to grasp.”

It has been a year of questions and grieving for the Erdeljac family. On this somber anniversary, they are also focused on honoring their loved ones.

“I don’t want Mara to be forgotten, and especially her family,” he said. “Jake had an opportunity to live his life a lot further along than Mara did.”

The two families, bound by grief, formed a friendship that will now be celebrated in June with a memorial motorcycle ride in Greensburg.

The families are hard at work raising money for a scholarship through Duquesne Light, where Jacob was a foreman.

“If we would raise $13,000, that’s going to be enough for like four people,” Zach said. “We want to help the next Jake get that opportunity to better himself and have the same kind of life he did.”

Jacob’s love of motorcycles is also bringing another layer of comfort to his family.

They did not know what to do with all 130 of Jacob’s beloved Harley Davidson T-shirts, so they turned them into blankets.

“My kids always say, ‘Can I lay with you, dad?’ And it’s ‘Yeah, go get Uncle Jake’s blanket,’” Zach said. “It’s nice … it’s nice to have.”

Zach told Channel 11 that this past year brought him closer than ever to his big brother.

He even took up his brother’s love of the road and bought a motorcycle, always bringing a fun memory of Jacob along for the ride.

The hobby is just a small way to honor a brother and a life gone too soon.

Click here if you would like to register for the memorial bike ride on Saturday, June 18.