Larkin threat another blow to sanctuary

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Larina Lewis probably should have been locked up a long time ago. She had been threatening Barry Larkin for years before she began inquiring about the ingredients of a Molotov cocktail.

Disturbed people say the darndest things, but the authorities tend to react when they start building bombs.

''I don't know why she fixated on Barry Larkin,'' Jamie Lewis said of her sister Wednesday afternoon. ''Last year, she was saying some stuff about Deion Sanders. When a person is mentally ill, she gets fixated on one thing and nobody can tell her different.''

The Cincinnati Police Division's arrest report on Larina Lewis says she is manic depressive. Her sisters suspect she has stopped taking her medication. Neither Jamie Lewis nor Cathy Wilson, Larina's eldest sister, have visited their sister in jail for fear of how she might respond.

''She said she was going to shoot me,'' Jamie Lewis said. ''I don't know if she had a gun or not. I called the police and basically what they were saying to me was, 'We can't do anything till she comes and shoots you.' But when she threatens Barry Larkin, they come running.''

Jamie Lewis is grateful that Larina is temporarily off the street, and more likely to receive psychiatric care while incarcerated. But she and Cathy Wilson both complained Wednesday that their earlier cries for help were not given an adequate hearing.

Double standard?

They resent what they perceive as a police double standard - one that is quick to shield the Reds' rich and famous shortstop but fails to respond to the concerns of Larina Lewis' own family.

''I love baseball and I love my Reds,'' Jamie Lewis said, ''but I don't think it's fair. I called District One (police) and they told me they couldn't do anything about it.''

The sisters' anger may be slightly misplaced. A District One spokesman said if a complaint had been made alleging Larina Lewis threatened to shoot her sister, she could have been charged with aggravated menacing. Still, a verbal threat and an explosive device are dramatically different things.

These are dark and troubling distinctions, to be sure. In its zeal to protect our rights, and the National Rifle Association, the government is sometimes compelled to compromise our safety. Consequently, our free society grows a little more fearful every day.

Barry Larkin has survived this episode without a visible scratch, but his psyche must surely be scarred. The police have caught one crazed woman, and must now be on guard against the possibility of copycats.

Jody Pettyjohn, director of stadium operations for the Cincinnati Reds, said tighter security measures are being enacted at Riverfront Stadium as a result of the threat against Larkin. Each year, the ballpark becomes a little less of a sanctuary and a little more of a fortress.

Sad but true

There is no choice in these matters anymore. No one wants to repeat the security lapses that contributed to the stabbing of Monica Seles, and all parties have come to the melancholy understanding that prominent athletes make prime targets.

Boomer Esiason, the former Bengals quarterback, customarily left Riverfront Stadium in the back of an ambulance to avoid contact with the crowd. Twenty-two years after he endured vicious racist threats to surpass Babe Ruth's home run record, Hank Aaron's safety precautions border on paranoia. If he leaves a public table even for a minute, Aaron refuses to drink from the same glass for fear of tampering.

''I think the players have gotten somewhat apprehensive from Monica Seles on forward,'' said Kevin Hallinan, Major League Baseball's director of security. ''I have addressed that concern with the players to assure them we have the ability to assist them . . .

''We have been in contact with Barry and with the club and we just want to reassure Barry that we will monitor the situation and stay with him over the next couple of months.''

Hallinan acknowledges that baseball cannot guarantee Larkin's safety, nor that of any other player. His job, essentially, is to reduce risks.

Sadly, it is a full-time job.

Tim Sullivan is an Enquirer columnist.

Published July 4, 1996.