Residential areas see more crime

Makayla and Alaina Dowling play with a bucket of cool water outside their home in T&S Mobile Home Park in Aiken. Their father, Eric Dowling, says that the neighborhood has improved enough that he will allow his daughters to play outside.

AIKEN --- Outside Travis Chandler's front door, drug dealers used to peddle crack and weed in the yellow sand road that marks the entrance to Aiken's T&S Mobile Home Park.

Recently, Chandler, 24, stood on the stoop of his family's white trailer and pointed to the area where he's seen drug activity. He added that his home was burglarized several months ago, and a neighbor was shot dead on his front porch last year.

Almost as an aside, Chandler mentioned he went to Aiken High School with Najee Preister -- the 18-year-old who was gunned down in the park in 2007. Chandler, a biology major who graduated from college last May, said crime is bad in his neighborhood.

But like many who live in areas with several homicides over the last nearly six years, he feels helpless.

"If I could help it I sure would but there's nothing I could do," said Chandler, who is moving away from the park and in with some friends.

There have been three homicides over the last five years in the trailer park, giving it the dubious distinction of having one of the highest concentrations of homicides in the area, according to an Augusta Chronicle database of homicides since 2005.

Of the 11 homicides in Aiken County last year, two occurred in T&S.

James Collins, 16, and John Henry Anthony, 57, were killed in separate incidents last year. Preister died two years earlier.

Janice Roper, 47, witnessed that shooting. She was hesitant to talk about the death of Preister, her nephew, who was shot in her front yard. Sitting in a chair outside her house with some friends, eating lunch, Roper looked around at the neighborhood where she's spent the last 15 years and recalled a place much more perilous just a few months ago. Aiken County deputies have been getting the "hood rats" out and burglaries have gone down, she said.

"The police really did try to keep the bad people out of the neighborhood," Roper said.

Eric Dowling, standing outside his trailer as his three young girls played in a bucket of cool water, said for a time it wasn't unusual to hear gunshots at night. A heavier police presence in the neighborhood and a series of arrests have helped bring change.

"We couldn't do this a while ago," he said, gesturing to his kids playing a short distance away. "We're finally being able to have fun. Before we couldn't do that because there was so much crime going on."

But if law enforcement is stepping up its presence in the area, the sheriff's office isn't saying so.

Sgt. Dave Myers, a spokesman for the Aiken County Sheriff's Office, said crime in the neighborhood is sporadic but refused to comment further on any efforts by the sheriff's office to curb crime.

"Certainly we take calls out there," he said. "I don't want to portray any one area worse than another. It's like any other neighborhood. It has its stages I guess you'd say."

Hank Byars, who manages the property with Wiecole Rentals, said the park went through a bad couple of months but efforts to organize the tenants has paid off. Regular meetings and more watchful residents has translated into fewer problems. At the time of the shootings, he said it seemed like their neighborhood was becoming a battleground for people from outside.

"I couldn't understand it, comprehend it, but it was happening," Byars said.

In Richmond County, a map of the homicides over the time span analyzed shows them spread over a wide area, with pockets of incidents in mainly residential areas.

Sheriff's Capt. Scott Peebles said you expect to see more shootings in neighborhoods with high population density and a lower socioeconomic status.

"We expect to see more shootings and therefore the potential of one of those people dying from that goes up, but homicides happen everywhere in this town," Peebles said.

Clusters of homicides appear in the neighborhoods surrounding Cherry Tree Crossing off 15th Street and on East Boundary near the River Glenn Apartments, where four people were killed in the last five years.

Those areas have significant drug activity, Peebles said, but that doesn't account for every case. Homicide motives can vary from narcotics to money to love.

He said residents in the Augusta area are fortunate to have the medical facilities in town, especially the Medical College of Georgia's Trauma Center, because it keeps many aggravated assaults from becoming homicides.

"We've got a solid medical community and a first-rate trauma center at MCG," Peebles said. "I have literally stood there and watched them bring somebody back to life ... on more than one occasion."

Back at T&S Mobile Home Park, Searcy James talked about the place he calls home. Sitting outside in the hot midday sun, a gnarled wooden cane resting against his legs and a bottle of beer in a brown paper bag in his lap, James, 52, blames the park's troubles on "wannabe gang-bangers" who moved in and cause crime. He supports any effort by deputies to keep things from getting bad again.

"You need someone right here to keep all that stuff from going on," James said. "They are like roaches. You catch one or two roaches in your house and you'll have a whole bunch of them running around soon."

Suspects in killings often have records
Impact of homicide goes beyond victims, killers
Stopping violence

A group formed to confront violence in the Augusta area will hold a news conference Thursday on the issue.

The United Coalition for Humanity, an organization led by the Rev. Larry Fryer, will unveil its plan to address violence that "has left mothers, fathers, their (unborn) babies, the elderly and scores of men/women dead." The event will be held at 1 p.m. at the Carrie J. Mays Life Center, 1014 11th Ave.

The victims

A look at where homicide victims have been killed by county since 2005, according to a database created by The Augusta Chronicle:

LOCATION RICHMOND AIKEN COLUMBIA

Residence 64 33 7

Street 32 6 --

Business 17 4 --

Hotel/motel 7 -- --

Work 4 1 --

Car on street -- 1 --

Note: Totals are homicides where location is known.

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