Thursday, June 03, 2010

3 JUN 10: Burning Up the Street

The online poker game was going well, when suddenly I heard a strange noise outside. I waited to see if anything else would happen - but no one started hollering about beating somebody up, so I went back to focusing on the game.

Minutes later, I noticed the unmistakable signs of city vehicles in the neighborhood. The ambulance was visible first - slow, noisy and with its lights on bright. Thankfully, there was no repeat of a night several years ago. Then the ambulance backed into my apartment complex lawn, took out a man who had been shot -- and I missed the story, because I was too focused on writing jokes.

On this night, the ambulance stayed on the street -- joined moments later by two other Columbus Fire/EMT vehicles. At that point, the poker game happened to take a four-minute break. WXTX began its News at Ten, with Alabama Primary results. And I got up from the computer, to play the ultimate multitasker.

I walked outside into the dark and saw three vehicles, including a large fire truck. But where was the fire? There wasn't even any smoke. I concluded this might be a case of someone having a heart attack -- with the fire truck brought out in case the patient still was cooking dinner.

With no real sign of trouble, I walked back inside my apartment. The poker game turned out very well -- but little did I know how close I was to real trouble. Columbus Police say a man attempted to set fire to several homes and businesses within one block of my home. Why anyone would try to top mobile home fires on Farr Road, I have no idea....

Keith Tew pleaded NOT guilty in Recorder's Court Wednesday to five arson-related counts. Police say he tried to torch two old homes on the east side of First Avenue, as well as Lil Kim's Cove down the street. Thankfully, the fires only caused slight damage - so maybe all he carried was a matchbook.

Police say Keith Tew was arrested inside Indoor Solutions Inc., after apparently breaking several windows to get in. The heating and air conditioning company apparently has experienced several break-ins - which could explain why the flagpole outside the front door doesn't have a flag anymore.

To have all this happen near my apartment was stunning enough. But then I read the Ledger-Enquirer's online report about the case Wednesday night. It said Keith Tew was captured "less than 50 feet from his home." That probably means he lived within 50 feet of MY home. Yet unlike some former neighbors, he never asked me for cigarettes to light.

"He drove the white Toyota," one of my neighbors told me about the suspect. That neighbor is a retired mechanic, so he's used to identifying people by the cars they drive. I don't normally do that - well, except for him. He drives a loud old Volkswagen back and forth in the complex driveway every day. Who needs an alarm clock when you have that outside your window?

As I reflect on all this, I'm thankful to be safe and sound. But I also feel a bit guilty. I keep so busy with other projects that I was oblivious to all the elements in this case. I think I saw Keith Tew come out of a nearby apartment a few times. The next time may be the last time - assuming he posts the $5,200 bond.

And I should have spotted the damage to Indoor Solutions Inc. first thing Wednesday morning. But when I stepped outside for a jog, I started by heading north on First Avenue - not walking past the front of ISI. My back was turned to the entire situation. No wonder a man at local poker tournaments has compared me to Mr. Magoo.

Sad to say, I've witnessed a few criminal cases on my block over the years. The most memorable case was a narcotics task force raid two years ago, at the apartment next door to mine [1 Jul 08]. I didn't know anything illegal was happening there, either. I simply assumed the next-door neighbor had better friends than I did.

BLOG UPDATE: Stacey Jackson is the winner of our contest to be the attorney for Columbus Parks and Recreation Director Tony Adams. Jackson told a Government Center news conference Wednesday it was "inappropriate" for the mayor to hand over a Parks Department audit to the police. He may have a point - since parks workers wouldn't be asked to review an audit of the police.

Stacey Jackson also complained about the Parks Department audit being released to the Ledger-Enquirer on the same day it was turned over to the mayor and city manager. Hmmmm - I guess that means I shouldn't call Jackson next week, and ask him to "leak" Tony Adams's official response.

Stacey Jackson didn't address the findings of the Parks Department audit. Instead, he challenged everything surrounding it - suggesting the mayor may have requested it due to a "conflict of interest" by someone with a gripe. But as Jackson said, it wouldn't be appropriate for Columbus Police to review that. Which private eye has the lowest rates these days?

But here's the thing - Columbus Police also investigated the mess involving Fire Chief Jeff Meyer and Zachary Allen two years ago. That was NOT a criminal case, and no one seemed to mind police handling that [11 May 08]. Of course, there's one big difference here - Tony Adams has hired an attorney.

Stacey Jackson didn't get into "Rec-Gate" itself - saying Tony Adams will submit his response to the city manager on deadline day next Tuesday. Many people can't wait to see how the Parks Department Director addresses the city audit. Especially those of us who want shuffleboard courts somewhere in town....

-> A sure win for us at the poker table Monday night turned into something very different. See how we responded to it at our other blog, "On the Flop!" <-

E-MAIL UPDATE: Our Wednesday review of the Alabama Primary led a reader to focus on one candidate in particular....

Hi, Richard!

I'm down here on the Gulf Coast enjoying Paradise one more time before BP destroys it. According to the AJC it won't be long now. Anyway, on the way down I saw all these signs Vote Young Boozer for Treasurer! Hilarious. Is "Young Boozer" gonna square off against Old Geezer or what? ( Boozer, the Democrat and Geezer , the Republican? that's been my experience anyway) Read your post this morning and saw you are aware of this candidate. I think I'll borrow one of those campaign signs.

I can guess where that "borrowed" Young Boozer sign will go - behind someone's basement bar.

Young Boozer actually is the Republican nominee for Alabama State Treasurer. His Democratic opponent will be 55-year-old Charley Grimsley, who calls him a "third-generation community banker." Does that earn him the title Old Miser?

The Republican Primary for Alabama Governor still was unsettled Wednesday night. Bradley Byrne's spot in a July runoff is secure, but Robert Bentley and Tim James finished only 108 votes apart. Maybe they should settle this in a way true Republicans would appreciate - with a skeet shoot.

Let's move rapid-fire through other Wednesday news items....

+ The Muscogee County School Board discussed putting Benning Hills Elementary School back into use. Preschoolers currently at the 30th Avenue Center would be moved there, in a complicated shift that would leave the Academic Success Center empty -- illustrating for four-year-olds a large-scale version of the game "Hot Potato."

+ Secretary of the Army John McHugh visited Fort Benning. He noted more than half of all soldiers go through basic training in our area. It's a wonder no tattoo shop on Victory Drive has a sign declaring, "Over one million served."

+ A Russian TV network visited the Ben Hill County Jail in south Georgia - perhaps because the jail walls are painted pink. How strange is this?! A conservative rural county sheriff could inspire a new wave of Commie pinkos.

+ An Atlanta TV station reported Sony Ericsson is using a recruiting firm to fill a Georgia job opening - with the stipulation that unemployed people will NOT be considered. Imagine what would happen if every employer had this sort of rule. About 30 years from now, wouldn't two-thirds of all workplaces be empty?

+ WTVM revealed the Columbus Woodbats are back in operation, and will open the home baseball season this weekend at Columbus State University. In fact, the Woodbats already have played and won a road game -- so while the team apparently scraped up enough money to have a season, there wasn't enough for a public relations person.

(I'm left wondering if Woodbats players tried to spread the word about the season by attending Monday's high school baseball finals - maybe chanting several times, "We've got next.")

+ Instant Message to the Columbus Baptist Alliance: Aw, c'mon! You're starting the "Kits for Kids" school supply drive already - only one week after the Muscogee County school year ended? Do you want grade-school children to feel like notebooks are dangling over their heads all summer?

COMING SOON: Martha, Martha (but without the Stewart)....

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