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Local stories of the year

Tuesday, December 31, 2013 - 8:11 am

Homicides match the record

With weeks left to go in the year, 2013 holds ominous memories for those who deal with crime in Fort Wayne. The Allen County Coroner's Office ruled the Dec. 3 death of Daniel William Arnett, 34, as Allen County's 44th homicide. All but two took place within city limits. The county has not recorded that many homicides since 1997, something the police chief has called an anomaly. Last year the county recorded 30 homicides and 24 in 2011.

Almost all were caused by gunshots. While many were clustered in the southeast quadrant of the city near downtown, victims were killed in all quadrants of the county. And they ranged in age from 17 to 65. It didn't matter if the victim was walking on a street in broad daylight, like Gerelle R. Borum, age 22, who was gunned down at around 1 p.m. March 19 on Rudisill Boulevard at Indiana Avenue. Not only did each crime put homicide detectives and pathologists on the case, but the fire department also played a role, hosing down the blood on the city's sidewalks.

The reasons can be debated nonstop – ease of obtaining a firearm, glamorization of violence, the disintegration of families. However, the rising numbers prompted many in the community who had had enough to gather and try to come up with solutions.

In April, about 75 people marched down South Anthony Boulevard from Pontiac Street to McKinnie Avenue in the Stop the Violence, Stop the Funerals, Pick Up a Book, Not a Gun rally organized by the Fort Wayne chapter of the NAACP.

Last month, Mayor Tom Henry tapped current Fort Wayne Police chief Rusty York for the re-established public safety director position.

"We want to continue to make the city as safe as possible, and this will enhance efforts to position us for future success," The News-Sentinel reported Henry saying at a news conference on the decision. Within a week of the announcement, the city had two more homicides, tying the record.

In October, after months of study and discussion, representatives of Building Bridges to a Better Community brought 10 recommendations for reducing violence in the city to Fort Wayne City Council. Among their recommendations, which have not been acted on by council, were creating an economic development plan for southeast and central Fort Wayne and create diversity in the police department's homicide unit.

The Fort Wayne Police got a big boost in diversifying its leadership with the announcement of Garry Hamilton as the department's first black police chief. Among the credentials he carried, in addition to his 19 years with the department, is the fact that he spent 14 years as a detective in the robbery and homicide division.

Hamilton, 52, won't officially wear the chief's hat until Jan. 1, so he hasn't laid out any firm plans toward cutting fatalities in the city, but communication with homicide victims' families is something he wants to instill in his department.

$71 million Ash Brokerage office/living project

As downtown continues to draw visitors and those interesting in spending money at its restaurants, bars and others businesses, the area will see another infusion of investments.

In September, Ash Brokerage announced it will locate its new national headquarters on the corner of Harrison and Berry streets. Plans call for 95,000 square feet of office space, a parking garage and 21,600 square feet of retail on the first floor. Ash will bring 200 employees to the downtown area. Tim Ash, president and CEO of Ash Brokerage, said the company would add 115 more jobs by 2017. The average wage is $60,000 plus benefits. Ash's investment would be $19.6 million.

The city will contribute $19.5 million toward the $71 million price tag. Warsaw-based Lake City Bank has approved about $20 million in financing for the project and will have an office in the space. Hanning & Bean Enterprises will build a residential development with 80 apartments, 10-14 condominiums and six townhouses. The parking garage will have green space on the roof.

A downside to the plans: It means moving Cindy's Diner. The fixture at Harrison and Wayne streets since 1990 serves its patrons the “garbage” plate – fried eggs, potatoes, and other delicious breakfast foods scrambled together – and doughnuts made with the machine that came from G.C. Murphy's. It has its loyal fans who don't want to see it go and will settle for an offer made to owner John Scheele – the city-owned parking lot adjacent to the Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation Community Center at West Berry Street and Maiden Lane. However, Scheele, who talked to The News-Sentinel just hours after learning the news himself, wasn't quite sold on the idea because it leaves a lot of questions: how much rent for a space with fewer parking spots and a wintertime move? The idea was brought Dec. 12 before the parks board, which has yet to give approval to the plan.

Anthony Wayne statue to stay where it is

Gen. Anthony Wayne was called “mad” but nothing made a few people madder than the thought of moving the statue of the city's namesake.

Mayor Tom Henry announced a $75,000 plan to move the 95-year-old statue from its current spot atop a base in Freimann Square, across the street to the Courthouse Green. It wouldn't have been the first time. The statue sculpted by George Ganiere of Chicago was originally placed in Hayden (now Nuckols) Park on Maumee Avenue in 1918 before moving downtown 55 years later.

Henry's reasoning was that the green space, long a spot for rallies of various causes seeking to gain support from some of the 40,000 daily drivers on the Clinton Street side, would be more visible than under the shady trees along Main Street.

However, the Courthouse Preservation Trust, "which has raised large sums of money to preserve the Courthouse Green,” according to a City Council resolution, reined in that idea before the statue galloped onto the space. It offered up to $100,000 to improve the statue's visibility where it is.

Fire destroys several warehouse buildings

One thing that draws gawkers is seeing plumes of black smoke rising far into the air from miles away.

Nearly 50 firefighters worked throughout Aug. 19 before getting the blaze in the 1200 block of Herbert Street under control six hours later. Flare-ups and the size of the site prompted firefighters to stay for two days to ensure nothing reignited.

The blaze sent a plume of black smoke that people in Ohio reported seeing. Much of the warehouse space was used for storage, but lawn care and auto repair businesses also operated in the complex east of the city's downtown.

Decatur man chooses to end life support

Nothing affected people quite like the death of Timothy E. Bowers, 32, of Decatur – because he chose it rather than live in a body he couldn't feel.

Bowers was deer hunting Nov. 3 when he fell 16 feet from an elevated tree stand in the 4500 block of east 450 N. He sustained a neck injury and paralysis from the fall. Emergency workers took him by Lutheran Air to Lutheran Hospital in Fort Wayne for treatment. Bowers had just gotten married Aug. 3, and he and his wife, Abbey, were expecting their first child. He was the owner and operator of 5 Points Transmission and a member of St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic Church.

Abbey sent family members, including his father, to look for her husband when he was late returning home; they found him under the tree, where he probably laid for five hours, and he told his father he made the mistake of stepping on a dead tree limb, according to an interview in the Mail Online, a United Kingdom publication. Bowers, knowing he'd require extensive care and never be able to hold his child, elected to remove himself from life support systems. Though his family and hospital staff questioned his decision, they finally agreed to follow his wishes.

The family cut down the tree from where he fell and created a cross memorial out the stump.

Bowers was laid to rest in St. Joseph Catholic Cemetery in Decatur.