Sunday, September 03, 2000

Maps don't tell where danger lies

Officers' deaths link disparate neighborhoods

By Lew Moores
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        It is a wide street, five lanes including a center turn lane, more suburban than urban, cutting through a neighborhood and business district that is at once congested but non-threatening.

        In the space of 25 years and within just a few hundred feet of one another, two Cincinnati police officers died in this block of Mount Airy between Kirby Avenue and North Bend Road.

[photo] Officer William J. Loftin was shot and killed in 1975 on this stretch of Burnet Avenue.
(Tony Jones photo)
| ZOOM |
        Neither was so much a reflection of the terror of urban policing as much as the sheer vagary of police work.

        Police Officer Kevin Crayon died on this street early Friday morning. A 12-year-old boy, Courtney Mathis, was shot and later died.

        Cincinnati Sgt. Robert Lally died just behind a storefront on this street in December 1975. Both officers could have been victims of panic rather than willfulness — a frightened 12-year-old, a panicky store owner who believed his store was being broken into.

        For Lee Boettcher, a 7-year veteran of the Hamilton County sheriff's patrol, it is a lesson in vigilance.

        Early Saturday morning he drove from his home in Delhi Township to visit the Cincinnati Police Memorial on Ezzard Charles Drive. He quietly gazed upon the bloom of bunches of flowers wrapped in cellophane that were beginning to obscure the base of the memorial.

        “I came because I care,” said Mr. Boettcher. He paused. “It makes you think. It's an eye-opener. It makes you become more aware of what you do. How quickly life can be lost in the line of duty. You gotta watch, you never know. You got watch everything you do. We've all lost a brother.”

        It often happens on the streets, both mean and benign.

        For every Colerain Avenue, there is a Burnet Avenue, where Police Officer William Loftin was shot and killed in the middle of the street in August 1975.

Drug mall

               A quarter-century ago, Burnet and some of the streets surrounding it were described as a shopping mall of drugs and violence. Officer Loftin was doing undercover work on that street on a hot August night when he saw a man fire a weapon in the air. He and another officer yelled, “Stop, police, drop your gun!” The man turned and fired. Officer Loftin fell in the street.

        Today, the spot where Officer Loftin was killed is just across from where a new, larger Ronald McDonald House is being built.

        A year earlier, Police Officer David Cole was shot and killed on Florence Avenue as he was heading in his cruiser towards a sweeping curve in the street that led to a convenience store where a burglary had been reported.

        Officer Cole confronted two men as they fled. Gunfire was exchanged. The police officer fell in the street, shot at least three times.

        Today, it is a lonesome stretch, between Gilbert and Concord avenues, a light-industrial pocket of urban Cincinnati. The New Emmanuel Baptist Church is still there. A tile company and auto body repair shop are across the street.

        Police Officer Clifford George was shot and killed on Vine Street in Fairview in April 1987. He was responding to a domestic disturbance call. Police Officers Ronald Jeter and Daniel Pope were shot and killed on Hollister Street 10 years later. Both streets are decidedly urban.

        Police Officer Charles Burdsall, a District 5 officer, followed two suspects from a convenience store on Dixmyth Avenue as they headed in a Chevrolet up West McMicken Avenue in University Heights. The two men had appeared to be casing the store.

        Officer Burdsall flashed his cruiser's blue lights, and the Chevrolet stopped near what is called short Hopple Street.

        Officer Burdsall had his weapon drawn, but pointed at the street when he left his cruiser. The driver of the Chevrolet began to put his hands on the car, then turned and fired. Officer Burdsall fell in the street.

        Brick apartment buildings still line part of the street. The Sunflower Coffee Shop is on the corner of Hopple and West McMicken.

        Sgt. Lally had gone to the small parking lot behind a row of storefronts on Cole rain Avenue in December 1975. He went to check a back door to the television repair shop at 5552 Colerain. The door flew open, a shot was fired. Sgt. Lally was hit. The store owner said he thought it was a burglar at the back door of his business.

        The owner of Daniel's Fine Jewelry at 5552 Colerain was not aware of what happened a quarter-century ago, just a few hundred feet from where Officer Crayon was killed.

        “The whole thing seems senseless,” he said of Friday's deaths. “This is a nice area, a good mix of people. It's a nice little family atmosphere. It's like being in a small town. At 6 (p.m.) we all go home.”

        There is a barber shop on this stretch of Colerain, a real estate office, car wash, Taco Bell, Thornton's gas station, hardware store, bakery, a nail salon. A sidewalk runs along each side of the busy street. There are concrete benches and young trees for shade.

Friendly hellos

               Ralph Klosterman runs Klosterman's Cleaners. The business has been there 40 years; he has been running it for 22. He heads into a back room and returns with a fistful of Cincinnati police uniforms draped over hangers. He does their dry-cleaning.

        “I knew him just to (say) hello,” Mr. Klosterman said of Officer Crayon. “Everybody is just dismayed over the whole thing... We don't have any trouble here. It's a pretty crime-free neighborhood. The police officers are cordial to everyone, really nice people.”

        Gary Geiger, who runs Geiger's Meats & Deli, opened on Colerain just two months ago.

        When Mr. Geiger arrived for work Friday morning, he found Colerain blocked off with barricade tape and police officers. He could not get to his business. Instead, he walked over to Little Flower Catholic Church around the corner on Kirby Avenue. He went in.

        “I said a prayer for both families,” said Mr. Geiger.
In the Line of Duty, a special section on Officer Crayon

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