A pair of shootings overnight Wednesday brought to two dozen the number of victims in the city in the last two weeks – a figure that elevates the amount of recent gun violence to a possibly unprecedented level.
The tally, compiled by the Journal Star and confirmed by the Peoria Police Department, includes the public suicide of Bernell Alexander last week in South Peoria, but not the slaying of his ex-wife in Creve Coeur just minutes before he took his own life.
The most recent victims included a man who was shot in the shoulder at 10:45 p.m. Wednesday in the 3400 block of Sunburst Lane in the Lexington Hills apartments and a man with a gunshot wound to the neck who was taken by private vehicle to OSF Saint Francis Medical Center at 3:13 a.m. Thursday. The second victim told police he was shot while he was a passenger in a vehicle driving through Harrison Homes.
The second shooting marked the 24th victim of gunfire since June 16, when a pair of afternoon shootings kicked off a 12-hour spree of violence that resulted in one fatality and five other people being wounded, including two children who were sleeping on the floor of their North Valley home.
Just a few days later, six people – all teens between the ages of 16 and 19 – were shot during two incidents less than a couple of hours apart.
Several days with multiple shootings and the city’s 15th and most recent homicide have since transpired, leading Lt. Vince Wieland of the Police Department’s Criminal Investigations Division to label the period the worst in terms of local gun violence in decades.
“I haven’t seen two weeks like this in my 23 years,” Wieland said Thursday. “I can’t remember two weeks that have been this packed with such a number of violent acts.”
Compared to last year, however, the number of shootings so far this year does not appear to be abnormally high. Through June 22, the city had recorded 58 shootings, compared to 45 over the same time period last year.
“When we’re looking back to June 22, there isn’t that much of an increase, it’s just how it’s coming – it’s coming in bunches,” Wieland said. “It’s getting everyone’s attention because there’s been so many so quickly.”
Several of the shootings appear to be connected and gang-related, and the police have responded in part by temporarily reassigning an officer to a gang intelligence position that was cut at the beginning of the year to ease a $14.5 million citywide deficit.
Wieland called that position critical for investigations of shootings and a better way for the police to keep tabs on what’s happening on the streets. So far, the gang violence appears to have been generated by people and groups familiar to investigators, though some ground was lost when the gang intelligence position was vacant.
“We did lose some vital information that we were tracking,” Wieland said.
Though the recent spike in gun violence has caught the attention of authorities and onlookers for its unusual frequency, it remains, to a certain extent, part of a pattern that repeats every year.
Elaine Frye, executive director of emergency medical services at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center, acknowledges the unusually large cluster of shootings in the last two weeks but also notes that more victims of violence tend to visit the level-one trauma center as temperatures rise.
“There is a seasonality to it – when the weather is nicer, more people are outside and roaming,” she said. “We see it every year. When the weather breaks, we see more stabbings, shootings and violence.”
The recent level of violence, she said, has not affected emergency operations at the hospital
A man who gained notoriety for firing upon a fellow student in a crowded Peoria high school hallway – then had his prison term for the crime significantly reduced on appeal – has been arrested in connection with a recent wave of gun violence.
Dione Alexander, 21, with a last known address of 921 S. Folkers Ave., turned himself in to police Wednesday. He was questioned and arrested in connection to shootings June 16 at 1916 W. Marquette Ave. and Sunday at 1204 W. Millman St. He was booked on charges of attempted murder, aggravated battery with a firearm, aggravated discharge of a firearm, armed violence and unlawful use of a weapon by a felon in each case.
Police also have made three other arrests – Dietrich J. Richardson II, 22, of 217 S. Western Ave.; Tristan L. Shelton, 19, of 2817 W. Marquette Ave.; and an unidentified juvenile – related to two weekend shootings.
Deandte M. Lewis, 19, of 510 W. McClure Ave. additionally was arrested Saturday for allegedly shooting Darian T. Johnson in the buttock June 16 in the 2800 block of West Wiswall Street. Lewis was released from Peoria County Jail on Monday with a notice to appear in court, though it is unclear what charges he will face.
Alexander was a 15-year-old freshman at Woodruff High School in January 2005 when he opened fire on a boy with whom he had been feuding. No one was injured, but the school and neighborhood were locked down for hours and increased school security measures followed the incident.
The intended target, Omar Porter, also has made headlines in the years since the incident for gun and drug crimes for which he has repeatedly been sent to prison.
Peoria County Judge James Shadid sentenced Alexander to 24 years in prison after he was convicted of the Woodruff shooting in 2006, but that term was later overturned by the Third District Appellate Court in Ottawa. When the case returned to Shadid’s courtroom for a new sentence, he again imposed the 24-year term.
The identical sentence prompted the appellate judges to take the rare step of imposing a new, vastly reduced term of six years for Alexander because the judges insisted Shadid had not properly considered the shooter’s troubled childhood and put too much emphasis on the location of the shooting, at a school.
Judges Mary K. O’Brien and Mary McDade agreed in the 2-1 decision that the reduced term was appropriate, while Judge William Holdridge dissented. By the time that decision was handed down, it essentially amounted to an order for early release, and Alexander was paroled in July 2009.
Police now believe he was involved in a shooting about 3:10 p.m. June 16 at the Marquette Street address. A man was shot in the lower calf as he sat outside his house.
He is also suspected in the shootings at a South Peoria house party early Sunday. Authorities were called to 1204 W. Millman St. about 12:15 a.m. after shots were fired from a vehicle – possibly parked on Butler Street behind the Millman address – into a group of about 50 or 60 teenagers. When police arrived, no one claimed to have been shot.
But a second call of shots fired came in about 2 a.m. at 2129 W. Wiswall St., and police found six people there with gunshot wounds. Two of the victims apparently were shot during the first incident and went to the Wiswall Street location. None of the victims – aged 16 to 19 – was seriously injured.
Peoria police issued a notice for officers to arrest Alexander in connection with the shooting on Millman Street late Tuesday, and he was nearly apprehended in Peoria Heights within a matter of hours but escaped.
A Peoria Heights police officer spotted Alexander walking from 804 E. Paris Ave. with 19-year-old resident Jacqueline Bullins to a vehicle parked outside the home just after 12 a.m. Wednesday. The officer attempted to apprehend Alexander, but he fled on foot and escaped.
Officers took the driver of the vehicle, Shelton, into custody and found several small packages of marijuana in his pocket. On the passenger seat of the car was a loaded handgun, which police also seized.
Shelton’s connection to the shooting on Millman Street on Sunday is unclear, but he was booked on a charge of attempted murder for that incident. Charges related to the incident during which he was apprehended in Peoria Heights include armed violence, aggravated unlawful use of a weapon, possession of a firearm without a valid firearm owner’s identification card, possession of a firearm projectile, possession of 10 to 30 grams of marijuana and possession of 10 to 30 grams of marijuana with intent to deliver.
Shelton was convicted in 2008 of possession of between 30 and 500 grams of marijuana with intent to deliver and sentenced to 30 months in prison. Prior to that, he had served stints in juvenile prison on stolen vehicle and weapons charges. According to the Department of Corrections website, he was not on parole at the time of the alleged shootings.
The second arrest related to the Sunday shootings occurred in South Peoria on Tuesday and appears unrelated to the incident in Peoria Heights. Richardson was taken into custody near his home after an armed robbery about 4:40 p.m. in the parking lot of JJ Fish and Chicken, 913 S. Western Ave.
A customer was robbed at gunpoint of his wallet and cell phone, and police took Richardson into custody while investigating that crime, though he is not suspected of participating in the robbery.
Richardson was booked on charges of six counts of attempted murder, aggravated discharge of a firearm in an occupied vehicle, felon in possession of a weapon and obstructing justice. The charges are connected to both Sunday shootings. He was convicted of aggravated unlawful use of a weapon in August 2008 and sentenced to two years of probation and 30 days in jail. The probation was scheduled to lapse in less than two months.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A Jacksonville high school student was recently beaten and battered at school by three students he said he didn’t even know.
Witnesses to the attack told police Forrest High School sophomore Karl Koch Jr. was targeted because of the color of his skin.”They started closing in, and all I remember is getting hit,” Koch said.
Koch’s wrist was shattered and six screws and a plate now hold it together. He also has nine stitches above his right eye.
Two 15-year-old students and one 17-year-old student were taken into police custody and charged with aggravated battery in connection to the attack.”I just seen them around school a few times and never really talked to them,” Koch said.According to the police report, one of the suspects said, “Look at the white boy, he looks like a victim,” before punching Koch in the eye.The report states all three attackers began kicking Koch and then laughed and ran away from the scene.”It seems like he was picked out just because was the only white boy in the crowd,” said the victim’s father, Karl Koch Sr.He said when he arrived at the school paramedics had already put his son in an ambulance.”When I got to ambulance, it was a whole different story. His eye was split open, there was blood everywhere,” said Koch Sr.The Koch family said they said they hope the three students responsible get what they deserve.”I want to see them get the penalty — the stiff penalty — for this and what they did to my boy,” said Koch.A school district official said the three students arrested could be expelled, but said the school board would decide on a punishment.
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How on earth did driver of speedboat that killed our son get off scot-free?
Last updated at 01:01am on 27th April 2008
After six years of tireless campaigning for justice for their dead child, it was a crushing moment simply too much to bear.
Paul and Andrea Gallagher had invested their hearts, souls and £50,000 life savings in a fight to bring a manslaughter case against the three men they hold responsible for the death of their son, Paul Jnr.
The two-year-old died from terrible head injuries during what should have been a dream trip for the family to the Bahamas after an out-of-control speedboat ploughed across a crowded beach.
But last week, in a stuffy and crowded courtroom in the Bahamian capital of Nassau, the Gallaghers’ world collapsed.
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Three-quarters of the way through a two-week manslaughter trial against the boat’s driver James Bain and its owners Clifford Nottage and Evangeless Williamson, Supreme Court Judge Elliot Lockhart abruptly dismissed the case against them.
He ruled there was insufficient evidence of negligence, even though the boat had been unlicensed, had no insurance and Bain had traces of marijuana in his blood – all clear breaches of Bahamian law.
The couple, from Orpington, Kent, screamed in horror as the judge brought the proceedings to an end.
Mrs Gallagher broke down and wept while her husband shouted at the three defendants and had to be ushered from the building.
“It was like a physical blow,” Andrea said yesterday. “I was stunned. I started shaking and collapsed to the floor, crying.
“The last bit of strength I had mustered up to enable me to come to the courtroom, to face them, was knocked out. I literally had no energy left to hold myself up.
“We thought it was an open and shut case. We wanted justice, but also to make the beaches of the Bahamas safer for other holidaymakers.
“Now the judge has given out a firm message – you can break Bahamian law and get away with it.”
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The Gallaghers were told there was no right of appeal and that the struggle that had consumed their lives since the day Paul was killed during a £10,000 ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ holiday in August 2002 had ended without a satisfactory resolution.
“‘We have come back to the Bahamas several times for inquests, police investigations and preliminary hearings,” added Andrea, 41.
“But this time we hoped we would get justice from a jury. We both found it hard to leave our two other children, Heather and Andrew, at home.
“But we felt we had to return to the place where their brother died to fight for justice to honour his memory.
“We were filled with anticipation, hope even. But as we got off the plane, memories of that holiday came flooding back to me – little Paul digging in the sand, then, after the boat hit, our baby lying on the beach with a big chunk of his skull missing – the sand red with his blood.”
Now they are left with a bitter feeling that after struggling to bring the case to court – but winning support from Tony Blair, then-Foreign Office Minister Baroness Symons and a Scotland Yard investigation – they are the victims of a terrible miscarriage of justice.
“We didn’t expect it at all,” said Paul, 43. “Even though I thought throughout that the judge seemed more sympathetic to the defence, we still thought the ultimate decision would be in the hands of the jury.
“Even if the jury had decided against us, we would have been able to accept it. But by ruling that there was no case to answer, the judge took that away from us.
“Now it is almost as though we have had no trial. We feel as if we have been through all this for nothing.”
The couple both gave evidence on the first day of the trial, two weeks ago. Andrea was in the witness box for two hours.
She said: “It was horrendous. The defence accused me of being a bitter woman waging a vendetta. All I could do was tell the truth – that I am a mother trying to do the right thing for her son.”
The Gallaghers realised the odds were stacked against them right from the start of the hearing when evidence that would have helped their case was ruled inadmissible.
On the last day of the prosecution case, on Thursday, defence counsel J. Henry Bostwick QC asked the judge to rule there was “no case to answer”, claiming the prosecution had shown no evidence of negligence – and that the safety of people on the beach at a private resort could not in Bahamian law be regarded as the responsibility of the boat’s driver.
The judge ruled that Mr Bostwick was correct and that, in effect, the tragedy fell into a legal black hole.
Paul said: “If Bain had been driving a car which had mounted a pavement and hit little Paul, he would have been punished.
“That boat was a powerful machine – 200 horsepower – and Bain had no skipper’s licence or insurance and was under the influence of cannabis.
“How can he not be responsible? The men we know are responsible for the death of our son have got off scot-free.”
Andrea added: “I certainly never want to set foot on that island again. But I do think our fight has been worthwhile. We may not have got the verdict we wanted, but we have achieved a hell of a lot.
“Since Paul died, new water safety laws have been brought in to make the Bahamas safer. Now we can only pray the new laws are upheld and no family will ever have to suffer the way we have.
“This has cost us everything: our life savings, our business and our peace of mind. But we felt the authorities wanted to sweep Paul’s death under the carpet to protect their tourist industry from bad publicity.
“We may not have got justice, but no one can say that we did not try our hardest for little Paul.”
NEW BRITAIN, Connecticut (AP) — A sex offender recently released from prison brazenly invaded a home, shot two women meeting for morning coffee and abducted one of them, whose body was found about 10 miles away, police said.
Leslie Williams, 31, told police that he entered the unlocked home Sunday morning looking for money and a car, but that when two women inside saw his face, he had no choice but to shoot them, according to an arrest warrant.
Carol Larese, 65, was seriously wounded while her visiting friend, MaryEllen Welsh, 61, was abducted.
According to the arrest warrant, Larese offered Williams $20 and Welsh gave him her car key, but Williams ordered the two into the basement and shot Larese. The warrant does not address the shooting of Welsh.
Larese told police she pretended to be dead, then stayed in her basement for an hour to make sure the intruder had left. She went to a neighbor’s home across the street for help.
“She just told me she was shot,” Teresa Diters said. “She was all full of blood from head to toe. I was amazed.”
Police said they arrested Williams when he crashed Welsh’s car about 25 miles away in Watertown after a police chase later on Sunday.
Welsh’s body was found in a wooded area of Bristol early Monday, Sgt. Darren Pearson said. MORE>>>
A King County judge today set bail at $1 million for a 24-year-old nursing assistant who was arrested Thursday on suspicion of beating and strangling a 75-year-old woman after she left a Federal Way nursing home last month.
Joseph Njonge, of Kent, who has no criminal history, worked for nearly a year as a certified nursing assistant at Garden Terrace Alzheimer’s Center of Excellence, where Jane Britt’s body was found in the trunk of her car on March 19. She had visited her husband, who lives at the nursing home.
Njonge was arrested after the Washington State Patrol Crime Laboratory notified Federal Way police that it had matched his DNA to that found on Britt’s body. He was booked in the King County Jail for investigation of first-degree murder and robbery.
Njonge is scheduled to return to King County Superior Court Tuesday, said Pro Tem Judge Karli Jorgensen. MORE>>>