Sunday, May 20, 2001

Year later, feud not forgotten

Trial set to begin Monday in Mason neighborhood altercation

By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        MASON — For almost a year, there's been a quiet discomfort among neighbors in the Durfield Estates subdivision.

        “There's still tension on the street about the incident, but it's below the surface,” said Jody Meece, 34, a neighbor of Gary Kretzer, the Mason man who suffered a near-fatal brain injury when he was punched in the head during a neighborhood parking dispute on June 3, 2000.

        Mr. Kretzer's alleged attacker and former neighbor, Dennis Rock, is to go to trial Monday on a felonious assault charge. The highly publicized case devastated the men's families, divided their neighborhood and brought undesirable attention to their affluent Warren County suburb.

        “I can't wait for it to be done and over,” said Lillian Fasano, 40, who has lived for nine years on Kenwood Drive, where both men lived until Mr. Rock moved out of state earlier this year. “I think people want it to go to trial so they can move on and the families involved can move on. But I don't think what happened will ever be forgotten.”

[photo] Dennis Rock (right) with his lawyer, Hal Arenstein, at a preliminary hearing last June.
(Enquirer file photo)
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        In a trial expected to last up to three days, a Warren County Common Pleas Court jury will be asked to decide whether Mr. Rock, 46, is guilty of felonious assault, a second-degree felony carrying a prison sentence of two to six years. His attorney, Hal Arenstein, says that Mr. Rock, a former minor-league baseball pitcher who tutored young aspiring pitchers, acted in self-defense.

        “We're maintaining that defense,” Mr. Arenstein said, and he said he thinks the testimony of two eyewitnesses will support that contention.

        James Beaton, an assistant Warren County prosecutor, declined to comment on the case.

        Mr. Kretzer filed a $5 million civil suit against Mr. Rock. The suit was dismissed in December so as not to interfere with the pending criminal case.

        On a sunny Saturday morning last summer, Mr. Rock, a father of two, and Mr. Kretzer, a father of six who was then an auto worker, had been arguing over where Mr. Rock's clients parked their cars. Mr. Kretzer was struck in the head and suffered a skull fracture and a brain injury so severe that he remained hospitalized in intensive care for a month.

        The Kretzers did not return a telephone call seeking comment Friday, but Mr. Arenstein said it was his understanding that Mr. Kretzer, 39, has no memory of the incident.

        “It has obviously affected both families in a very dramatic way,” Mr. Arenstein said. “Mr. Kretzer, with the injury, and Mr. Rock by basically being forced out of his neighborhood. ... It goes to show that anger can cause you to lose control and change your life remarkably.”

   • June 3, 2000: Dennis Rock of Kenwood Drive, Mason, is accused of attacking his neighbor, Gary Kretzer, after the two argued over parking spaces. Mr. Kretzer, who suffered a fractured skull and a brain injury, was hospitalized in intensive care for one month before being transferred to Drake Center for rehabilitation.
   • June 17: Mr. Kretzer files a $5 million civil lawsuit against Mr. Rock. The suit was dismissed shortly after it was filed so as not to interfere with the pending criminal case.
   • July 10: Mr. Rock is indicted by a Warren County grand jury.
   • July 21: Mr. Rock pleads not guilty to felonious assault charges in Warren County Common Pleas Court and is released on $10,000 bond.
   • May 21: Jury selection is scheduled before Warren County Common Pleas Judge Neal Bronson.
        Although Mr. Kretzer survived, he has permanent brain damage that will prevent him from working for the rest of his life, Mrs. Meece said.

        “I really have tried not to take a side,” she said. But she said she can't help feeling sad about the impact the incident has had on Mr. Kretzer — and the neighborhood.

        “I think because people see him out in the yard cutting his grass, he's OK — but he's not. His personality has changed. He used to be very high-energy. Now he's much more subdued,” Mrs. Meece said.

        “Last year when this happened, I walked around for a month, saying, "I can't believe this has happened in my neighborhood.' It took me at least the whole summer not to think about it. It was on my mind every single day.”

        Neighbors say they hope the trial will resolve questions such as: How many times was Mr. Kretzer struck? Were any foreign objects involved? Was the major damage inflicted by his head hitting the pavement or the sheer force of a punch?

        Regardless of the trial's outcome, Mrs. Fasano thinks the situation can be used to teach an important life lesson.

        “I tell my children, "No matter what someone does to you, you have to walk away.'... It's sad that the lesson has to come from the behavior of two adults.”

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