Park Heights residents ask again that woods be cleared

Neighbors say brush is haven for criminals

July 17, 2000|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

The killing of a 17-year-old Northwest Baltimore girl has Park Heights residents once again demanding that the overgrown Towanda woods be cleared in an effort to curb the area's crime.

Camile Wright, 17, of the 2900 block of Violet Ave. was shot about 3:45 a.m. Wednesday in a vacant lot in the 3800 block of Towanda Ave. in Park Heights. Wright died at short time later at Sinai Hospital.

The killing came about one year after the Rev. Junior Lee Gamble was killed three blocks away. He was shot twice in the head and robbed on July 15, 1999, as he stood near his car on Quantico Avenue.

Residents told police Gamble's assailant fled into the dense strip of forest bordering the neighborhood in Park Heights and encasing the CSX rail line that slices through the community.

Police have not made an arrest in the case.

The high-profile killing forced a massive cleanup of the woods, which are still littered with garbage, drug needles and areas where addicts shoot heroin and dealers give out free samples known as testers.

Residents said crime declined after the cleanup, but they now fear Wright's death symbolizes the return of what some call the "canopy of hell."

Police Capt. Robert H. Greene Jr. said police sympathize with residents' complaints, and he noted that crime is down 33 percent in the area compared to last year.

"As far as the wooded area, we don't want to make them to look like Vietnam and take all the shrubbery and trees away," Greene said.

Although police believe Wright was killed as a result of a fight she had earlier in the week - not in a random killing as they think Gamble was - residents said the woods still provide an escape route and cover.

Residents reported hearing one gunshot, followed by footsteps and then two more shots from the woods, which are located one block from the site.

"They have destroyed the neighborhood. People can do any number of things and run right back there and hide," said Pansy Ray, of the 2900 block of Keyworth Ave., about one block from where Wright was killed.

Last August, police and city crews used chain saws and pesticides to clear some of the brush on the edge of Towanda Park and the Police Athletic League playing field.

Former Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier, frustrated by criminals using the woods, said at the time that he wanted the area bulldozed.

Officials said there was little they could do because the city does not own most of the property. Part of the property is owned by the CSX rail line, and the 11 acres immediately behind the PAL center are owned by S&G Concrete Co.

S&G Concrete Co. agreed last year to inspect the property weekly for garbage and holes in a fence that was erected to reduce pedestrian traffic.

Residents say such attempts have curbed crime, but the woods are once again becoming a nuisance. "You never know what is hiding in there," said Naomai Ford, 85, of the 2900 block of Keyworth Ave. "The police don't even chase anyone in there. Once [suspects] make it to the woods, the police stop."

She wants the woods cleared.

Willie Ray, 63, said throngs of people cluster in the woods near his home.

Several months ago, his first-floor window was shot out during a dispute between two men who were walking toward the woods, he said.

He said he hears gunfire coming from the woods several times a week.

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