Tuesday, June 17, 2003

T's wife: 'I hate this area'

West End store owners live with violence

By Jane Prendergast
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Cars slow as they reach The Candy Corner. Drivers lean their heads out, hollering to the woman sitting on a stool outside the little West End store.

"I heard about T," says a woman in a blue minivan. "You OK?"

"You know I'm thinking about you," yells the man behind the wheel of Metro bus 59.

They're talking to Loretta Allen about her husband, Tony. Everybody knows "T" from their trips to his store for chips, Faygo, pretzels, pork rinds and Slim Jims. Kids call him Mr. T, Uncle Tony.

Lots of them think he's dead. He's not.

She responds: "I ain't going to say he's fine. But he's alive. Thank you."

Then, more quietly, after they pull away: "But he's messed up."

Tony Allen, who is 34, lies in University Hospital. A respirator breathes for him. He can't feel anything on one side. He's missing part of his brain, the part doctors had to cut out to remove some bullet fragments. He's blind in one eye.

He was shot Friday morning, Friday the 13th, at York and Linn streets, a few blocks from his store. Tony was giving someone a ride, Loretta says, and was due back at the store in minutes to go to lunch with her. He was the first of four shooting victims in the same block that day. No one's been arrested in Tony's case.

Violence hits hard in this neighborhood. And on this family.

Tony's father, Robert "Rappy" Eason, 50, was the first person killed in Cincinnati this year. He was beaten to death in January, not far from the spot where his son was shot on Friday.

The story on the street is that two men thought "Rappy"' Eason stole $125 worth of dope from them. Police say the two men are members of the Tot Lot Posse, a gang named for a neighborhood park. Members are suspected in many of the recent shootings and killings in the West End and Over-the-Rhine.

The two men pleaded guilty to manslaughter - a reduced charge from murder - and got five years each.

"They killed him," Loretta says, "and then they found out he didn't have anything on him."

Tony knew both of his father's killers, she says - they shopped in the store.

"I hate this area," she says, shaking her head.

Monday was the first day The Candy Corner reopened after Loretta went running out Friday when she got the call about her husband. The steady stream of well-wishers continues all afternoon. No one walking past fails to stop and wrap their arms around her.

Contractors work inside the building next door. She explains they're fixing an apartment where a woman set a fire on purpose to try to hurt her family. She points to an alley across the street where a man was robbed.

Behind her, Heberle Elementary School sits boarded up because of a lead poisoning investigation. She mentions somebody else she says is "running dope like crazy.''

The Allens live in Mount Auburn. They once considered living above the store, she says, but decided they'd rather be able to lock the store at night and leave.

Loretta's aunt, Margie Siffel, chimes in. She's here because she doesn't want her niece to be alone. She's sitting outside, too, on an overturned milk crate.

"All this violence has got to stop somewhere," Margie says. "All these kids with high-priced gym shoes, and they don't work. You know something's wrong there."

Two little girls play two storefronts down with a jump rope and a pink hula hoop. They proudly say they are 6 and 6 1/2 years old.

"We know Tony," says the one in the denim skirt.

Says the other: "He got shot."


E-mail jprendergast@enquirer.com

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