Calls drop, city stalls action to close store

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 30, 2001

[07/30/01] A downtown business got a second reprieve from City Hall today after city officials said the convenience store associated with a fatal shooting last week had improved over the weekend.

Mayor Laurence Leyens said this morning he would not file court papers today to close The Smoke Break at Clay and Cherry streets as he had threatened Friday, but said he would wait until Aug. 8 to make a final determination.

Leyens said he decided to give the owners more time to make the store safer after he spent the weekend observing the area while cruising police and noted what he called a “good-faith effort” by the proprietor.

“I am pleased with their efforts as well as the efforts of the police department so far,” Leyens said.

Over a three-day period from Friday to Sunday, E-911 records indicate there were six emergency calls to the business at 1215 Cherry St. Over the past 18 months, there have been a reported 800 calls, or an average 4.5 daily, to 911 about the store.

Calls over the weekend included an assault Friday night and two calls to clear the parking lot Sunday.

Last week, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen took the first step toward asking a chancery court judge to declare the business a public nuisance and shut the doors, but backed off after a meeting with the owners and their attorneys Thursday.

He said then that he would take action today if immediate improvements were not made.

This morning, Leyens said efforts had been made by the owner over the weekend to clean up the hot spot, including placing a security guard at the business.

“The owner was out in the parking lot most of the evening cleaning it and moving people along,” Leyens said.

The mayor said he will meet with the owners and their attorneys again on Aug. 8 to see what changes have been made and decide if the city will take action against the business.

Last week, the city focused its attention on The Smoke Break after a fatal shooting Tuesday of a man shortly after he let the parking lot of the business.

Eddie Baker had just left the store and was walking north on Cherry Street when he was shot around 2:50 a.m. Baker, who was 38, died about 15 hours later at ParkView Regional Medical Center.

Three men have since been charged in his death.

Bryan Wilson, 17, 113 Springridge Drive, was arrested Wednesday and charged with murder; 25-year-old Edward Wright, 1328 Bay St., and Jerry Dee, 19, 902 Blossom Lane, Apt. 501, were charged Wednesday and Thursday, respectively, with charges of accessory after the fact to murder.

Leyens said that two other stores cited by the city earlier to be closed, at Mission 66 and Alcorn Drive and Drummond Street and Bowmar Avenue, closed earlier at night over the weekend and that the city would also hold off on court action against those.