Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Students living on Westside uneasy over string of murders

Students living on Westside uneasy over string of murders

Several violent crimes near campus are thought to be gang related

Kyle Rokes and Eryn Burkhart, The Channels Online

Issue date: 3/24/09 Section: News
  • Print
  • Email
  • Article Tools
    Several blocks on the lower Westside were sealed off by police in relation to the Feb. 21 murder on the 400 block of De La Vina Street. Several students living in the area say that they are taking precautions when walking in the area.
    Media Credit: Michelle Wong
    Several blocks on the lower Westside were sealed off by police in relation to the Feb. 21 murder on the 400 block of De La Vina Street. Several students living in the area say that they are taking precautions when walking in the area.

Jacky Chang was on her way to church the same morning that the body of a murdered man was lying in the gutter, just around the corner from her front door. 

Baldemar Leal, a 22-year-old Mexican national was left to die on Haley Street outside Brownies Market on Saturday, Feb. 21 after suffering multiple stab wounds.

Over the last year, there have been several violent crimes committed in the vicinity of Haley Street and Bath Street on the lower Westside of Santa Barbara-some thought to be gang related.

Lawrence Kaiser was fatally stabbed in the neck at Lighthouse sobriety House on Haley Street on Dec. 11, 2008. He was 45. 

Nick Cavalier, 22, is now living with brain trauma after being attacked when he tried to help a friend in front of Tacos Y Mariscos Don Pepe on Chapala Street and Ortega Street on June 7, 2008.

These violent crimes have left many of the residents of the lower Westside feeling nervous about their neighborhoods.

Chang, a 20-year-old economics major from Peru, has lived in the neighborhood since January of 2008. 

"I heard from people this place is dangerous," she said. 

Chang doesn't go out at night. She doesn't know how late the local corner store is open because she never walks around after nightfall.

At her orientation for City College, the Santa Barbara Police Department gave new students tips on how to be safe, especially at night, because of the multiple incidents of gang related crime in the city.

She found the tips police gave to be a little obvious.

"Don't be distracted on a cell phone when alone," they told her. 

"Take special care when on the East Campus steps leading down to Montecito Street," the police said.

Chang has never seen a crime, let alone anything overtly suspicious. But friends who visit her have told her that some "weird characters" go in and out of homes near her-in numbers that suggest they don't all live there. This seems suspicious to her.
Other students who live in the area expressed concern about their safety, going on record about the recent crimes. 

Some agreed to talk. Some asked that they remain anonymous. But all of them agreed on two key points - that the Lower Westside has a dangerous element.

Brendan Keane, a student at City College used to live in the Harbor Heights apartments on the Lower Westside, but found more pleasant living near the intersection of Bath Street and Mission Street. 

"As you get farther away from the lighting, you get more break-ins," Keane said.

He keeps his curtains drawn, his business to himself and rarely sees his neighbors.

"I don't get into their business, they don't get into mine," Keane said. "That's sort of the vibe. Keep to yourself and nobody will bug you. Board up your personal life." 

A City College student who prefers to remain anonymous lives and works on the Bath Street and Haley Street area.

"Police, newspapers, television. They're here every day," he said.

He's lived in an apartment complex filled with students, where life can get a little hectic. But he doesn't feel any need to leave the neighborhood.

"I feel really, really safe about Santa Barbara and this neighborhood," he said. It's much safer than L.A. right?"

He felt that the City College safety lecture had "too much cushion," and was "filled with stupid things."? 

A 29-year-old in the drug-counseling certificate programming on Bath Street calls one of Santa Barbara's many sober-living houses home.

It is located between a heavily drug affiliated area and a liquor store, with State Street bars close at hand.

He said, if you make eye contact, a gangbanger may take it as 'mad-dogging,' a term that means to glare threateningly at someone. 

"They may think everybody's out to get them," he explained. "So out of fear or an automatic need to defend themselves, they retaliate."

He also said that in this neighborhood, "addiction and alcoholism has spread like wildfire."
Even before the economy started to fail, this overpopulated beachside town and tourist attraction was expensive to live in. He said as people lose control of their lives because of alcohol or drugs, some have also lost their homes.

Compared to other cities, he's never seen "this many homeless people."

And many of the homeless walk down Haley Street.

Viran "David" Singh, owner of Brownie's Market on the corner of Bath Street and Haley Street encourages his student employees and customers to be careful.

One of his employees, to whom Singh also rented a room to, quit his job and moved out after a local television station broadcasted footage of his workplace. He feared he would be identified, that some kind of retaliation could come his way. 

Singh noted a disturbing pattern - the last few murdered victims were all new to the neighborhood. 

In addition to taking obvious precautions like not walking through poorly lit sections of streets, Singh also stressed the importance of avoiding eye contact with anyone they feel is a suspicious character. 

While Santa Barbara may not have the reputation of gang-related crime that exists in big cities, these recent events have made quite a few people think twice before walking the streets at night.

Correction: Baldemar Leal was found dead on De La Vina street about a half a block between Cottage Grove and Haley street, according to SBPD Sgt. Lorenzo Duarte. The Channels regrets the error.

1 comment:

  1. Is this a safe area? How much longer do we sit here and wait for something else to happen?