Businessman slain at his Greenmount Avenue shop Shooting coincides with police drug sweep of Midway community

April 20, 1996|By Peter Hermann and Joe Mathews | Peter Hermann and Joe Mathews,SUN STAFF

A popular used-car lot owner and mechanic was shot fatally in his Greenmount Avenue shop yesterday, and police were searching for a man who rented part of the lot and apparently owed the victim money.

Hours after the slaying of Lae Phoukieo, 54, Baltimore police swarmed into the East Baltimore-Midway neighborhood to try to quell a two-week outbreak of drug-related slayings and shootings.

The raids were unrelated to Mr. Phoukieo's slaying, but police said they coincidentally targeted a house on Boone Street where the suspect in yesterday's slaying was believed to be hiding.

"Homicide was typing a warrant up [for the suspect] as we were going through the door," Eastern District Lt. Glenn Williams said. The suspect wasn't there.

Police raided 19 suspected drug houses in an area of the city that in 1994 was the site of the first sweeping raid -- Operation Midway -- by Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier. He assured residents that his officers would never give up on the neighborhood.

Dozens of similar sweeps followed around the city, and all have ** been compared with the first one, which resulted in prison

sentences for 46 violent drug dealers and a 31 percent drop in violent crime in the area. It signaled a new get-tough enforcement policy by city police, who had been criticized for ignoring violence in poor communities.

Yesterday's sweep, dubbed "Operation Promise," came after two shootings and two homicides in the past two weeks, all thought to be drug-related.

"Young people up there are trying to move in and fill the [crime] void that was left," said Maj. Odis L. Sistrunk Jr., commander of the Eastern District. "We have to send a message to them that we are going to keep this place clean."

The slaying of Mr. Phoukieo, who owned AZ Auto Import Sales in the 2500 block of Greenmount Ave., does not appear to be drug-related.

Police were searching for Alford Eze, 40, of the 2100 block of Boone St., who employees said rented part of the lot from Mr. Phoukieo and was behind on his rent.

Police charged him in a warrant with first-degree murder.

Mr. Phoukieo, who emigrated from Laos two decades ago and routinely worked six days a week, was found by his son about 7: 30 a.m. lying in front of the shop's counter. Police said he had been shot several times.

Investigators could not determine a motive, but Calvin Carr, a mechanic, said Mr. Phoukieo was trying to evict Mr. Eze from the property.

"This was a very good man," Mr. Carr said yesterday after arriving for work and finding police cars surrounding the lot. He said Mr. Phoukieo had a diverse clientele, from wealthy owners of foreign cars who valued his expertise to area residents who sometimes didn't have enough money to pay him.

"He was a good guy and did everybody favors," said Kenneth Jordan, 29, who works near the shop. "He'd say, 'Just pay me whenever.' You don't find too many guys like that."

Mr. Phoukieo's shop is at the northern tip of the Midway community, described in 1994 as the city's most dangerous area. But since the first raid -- a one month after Mr. Frazier was confirmed as police commissioner -- crime there has fallen dramatically.

A neighborhood resident, too frightened to give her name, said the area has remained stable, but she noted an increase in junkies combing the streets.

"You see these people out, and you know they are being served somewhere," she said. "I'm glad the police are doing this."

More than 100 police officers moved in yesterday afternoon and arrested 25 people, 18 on felony drug charges. They said they seized 189 vials of cocaine, 76 capsules of heroin, more than a half-pound of marijuana, four handguns and $1,910.

Houses targeted were in the 2100 block of Boone St., the 1900 block of Kennedy Ave., the 1900 block of Barclay St., the 500 and 700 blocks of E. North Ave. and on East 20th and East 24th streets.

Police said they want to assure residents that Mr. Frazier's word is good. "We gave the community a promise that we wouldn't let it go back to the way it was," Lieutenant Williams said.

Pub Date: 4/20/96

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