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My neighborhood, my street, my corner
By Jim Sack
Fort Wayne Reader
A gun shot sounds differently than a car’s back-fire — sharper, more defined at the beginning and end. It was clearly a gun shot, and a large caliber, a baritone, not a tenor. Then a few more shots in quick succession, then a final shot. With the roar of a large engine and the whine of a second smaller engine two vehicles fled the mayhem.
Before that last shot’s echo had subsided bystanders were already in motion. Cell phones were rising to ears to explain to 911 what had happened. A UPS driver ran toward the still body. A woman nearby waved her hands. She leaned over the victim and recoiled. A man in brown stood solemnly across the intersection from the quiet body and spoke into his cell phone. He acted deliberately and calmly. He, too, like a dozen others, some in homes, some in nearby offices, those few on the corners reported a shooting.
The climax of a disagreement had come around 1:40pm and a sunny Tuesday afternoon. The lives of two young men had intersected for a final, destructive, fatal moment at the normally placid corner of Indiana and Rudisill — my neighborhood, my street, my corner. It is hard to tell what led up to the moment — perhaps a running argument, perhaps a fight over drugs, turf, or a girlfriend — but it was fatal. Police suggested it was another of the city’s recent spate of drug killings that have made Fort Wayne no-man’s-land between Chicago, Detroit and Indianapolis.
A reporter quickly labeled it a “drive by shooting,” as if the gunman was just out looking for some pot-shot fun and happened to spot a random target into whom he then angrily emptied his pistol. Two young men a long way from home and a “chance” meeting. Doubtful. It seems the victim was more the target who was either lured to his fateful rendezvous or driven there by the murderer. And murder it was. Not just one shot, but anger poured from the barrel. Many shots slammed into the kid even after he hit the ground. Anger, pure vicious, murderous anger.
A report said that driver was heading west on Rudisill when he spotted the victim and turned around to kill him. Witnesses offered a slightly different story. The shooter was in a white GMC with red trim and more than a bit of rust. He was stopped on the south side of Rudisill, on Indiana, in the Auburn-esque Southwood Park neighborhood where one pretty, well maintained house after another sits in tidy rows. It is as All-American as any neighborhood in Fort Wayne. The gunman in his fading gunboat was stopped at the light, the victim was on the southwest corner standing in front of a decorative wall and pillar, both part of a 1920s entrance adornment to the neighborhood.
When the last shots rang out the GMC charged across the intersection and northward on Indiana. He did seem to have waited for the light to change. But instead of an easy getaway, a small Saturn, waiting on Rudisill west bound, stopped on the red, had turned right-on-red and was in hot pursuit. In that diminutive Saturn was a woman and her daughter who lived a few blocks north of the scene. They were on their way to a doctor’s appointment which they never made. Instead, the woman, a neighborhood activist, and her daughter, made a split-second decision — render aid or chase the perp..
They chose to do their civic duty and the chase was on. Initially, to observers it was hard to tell whether the perp had an accomplice or a big problem. It turned out to be the latter. The daughter in the passenger seat pulled out a cell phone and placed another call to 911. North on Indiana they went, dropping back a bit for fear of who knows what – a bullet, a sudden stop, something. For a moment they lost the GMC when he went down an alley, but soon caught sight of him again as he rushed up South Wayne. They wove with him though neighborhood streets and more alleys until police cruisers rushed by…going the wrong way. All the time the daughter was on the phone and helped the officers u-turn and catch up. Officers quickly spotted the GMC themselves and began converging. A very short time later the driver was cornered by a half dozen squad cars in a parking lot behind a pizzeria at Rudisill and Clinton. Reports say a shell casing inside the rusty old GMC linked the vehicle, if not the driver, to the crime. Police probably found much more evidence, as well.
Meanwhile, back at the scene, the limp body had been rolled into an EMS vehicle after a long effort at CPR by a fire fighter.
Police had arrived on the scene a minute or less after the first call. A pumper arrived seconds after that; then a minute or so later the EMS box-truck rolled to a halt. While some officers wrapped yellow tape around the entire intersection others began scouting evidence as the firefighter repeatedly pumped the chest of the young man. After a few minutes EMS carried him west on the Boulevard toward a hospital where hours later he died. Hollow-point bullets, they said, dum-dums, invented by the British and outlawed in war. Detectives then arrived and began asking questions and writing notes. A witness was taken to ID the GMC.
Soon the tape was down and only the fire truck remained.
Years ago, Mayor Ivan Lebamoff, the same one who set up the City Light lease and created the structure that would eventually become the Legacy, set up the neighborhood system to help neighbors work with city hall to improve their lives. The near southwest side is especially active with regular meetings, training sessions, block parties, police presentations and about anything else that will help knit a community together and to build a sense of empowerment, responsibility and cooperation with city hall, the police and fire departments. That Tuesday at 1:40pm it paid off.
The people at 911 reported a surprising flood of calls to report the shooting. Too often before a caller reported “gunshots” and then quickly disconnected. Instead, 911 was inundated with long-lasting, involved calls where residents offered their names as witnesses. One neighborhood leader chased the GMC making the quick arrest nearly a slam-dunk for the police. Shaken witnesses sat with detectives and poured out what they had seen. One officer said that the shooter had chosen the wrong neighborhood!
In fact, thanks to mayors Ivan, Win, Tom and Paul, the neighborhood system in Fort Wayne has been strengthened, encouraged and empowered so that a crimes like this and smaller would not go unnoticed and unreported. Sadly, not every Fort Wayne neighborhood measures up.
Meanwhile, back at the corner, in front of the ornate pillar and brick wall, a firefighter quietly hosed the blood from the sidewalk. It ran down the gutter into a drain; and a few minutes later a couple of kids, earphones on, smartphones in their hands walked by as they had every day before and will for years into the future….as if nothing had happened.