Whitehall battling crime spilling over from Columbus

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 Messenger photos by Dianne Garrett

Whitehall City Councilman Chris Rodriguez and Mayor Lynn Ochsendorf listen to Marcia Harvey, customer service representative from AEP Ohio, as she gives her recommendations about additional lighting in a blighted area of Columbus that is negatively impacting the quality of life for Whitehall neighbors

 
 Abandoned apartments on Barnett Road in Columbus that abut Maplewood Avenue in Whitehall overlook about a dozen shopping carts from area businesses, dumped mattresses, debris and tall grass.   

A couple of weeks ago a Whitehall family’s beloved pet was senselessly shot to death by two youths on bicycles at Maplewood Avenue and Etna Street.  

The juveniles escaped through a field that separates a blight-ridden apartment community on Barnett Road in Columbus.  Some buildings are occupied, and others are boarded up and abandoned.  

Sneakers hang on electric wires up and down Barnett, which is an old trick used by drug dealers so they can be found more easily by their customers.  

The only solid barrier between the neighborhoods is a few feet of guardrail to stop vehicle traffic.

The criminal activity has been going on for years, according to neighbors.  Whitehall Mayor Lynn Ochsendorf has tried working with liaison officers from the Columbus Police Department.  Things would get a little better, but the situation would soon slip back.  

On Oct. 26 neighbors met with Ochsendorf, Councilman Chris Rodriguez and Marcia Harvey, customer service representative from AEP Ohio.  She said that additional lighting could be installed on about a mile’s worth of existing poles along the dividing field, at a cost of about $7,000 a year.  

Also in attendance were Whitehall Police Chief Richard Zitzke, Lt. Mark Heater, Public Safety Officer Ed Rickels, and Service Director Ray Ogden.

Neighbors shared stories of what life has been like lately, saying they have been terrorized and harassed, mugged and burglarized.  

A few weeks ago a Whitehall officer was shot at while investigating an incident.  Fortunately, he was not hurt.  

One resident said that she loves her big, kid-friendly backyard, and has small children who enjoy playing outside.  She offered that she home-schools her two children, and sometimes they host a play group.  

She has taught the kids, if they hear a loud noise, such as gunfire, to grab the hands of the smaller children, and run into the house.  She has seen people shooting at each other back there, and has had them run through her yard all hours of the day and night.  

 

A neighbor told of being jumped and robbed as he got out of his car.  Another recalled when a drug deal went bad, and a young man was shot in both of his legs so he could not leave his car.  Then the car was set on fire.    

In addition to more lighting, another solution would be an actual barrier wall or six or eight-foot chain link fence.  Ogden pointed out that when there was a similar problem in another part of town,  a six-foot chain link fence corrected the situation.  

The other dilemma is that the property is in Columbus, and property records will have to be searched to determine who owns the apartments.  

Rickels suggested a neighborhood group be formed.  He urged them to organize, gather information, and take it to Columbus City Council.   A group would give teeth to the cause, he said.

Neighbors agreed to start organizing.  They want to take back their neighborhood.

Ochsendorf said, "It’s a shame that bad neighbors are going to be chasing away good neighbors in Whitehall.  There’s a real problem with abandoned properties on Barnett and Napoleon, causing our residents to be fearful of getting shot in their own backyards.   I will be contacting Mayor Michael Coleman, and I know he will do whatever he can for us.  But it needs to stop, and we’ll make sure it does."

Rodriguez agreed that it is a real shame, and just wants to see the two cities come together to find a resolution.  

 Th extent of the problem was punctuated as the gathering broke up.

As part of the group was leaving, two young black males sped through the portion of Etna Street that ends at the guardrail, causing the walkers to rush to the yards for safety.  

They turned around and sped back through, shouting obscenities and threats at the group that remained.

 

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