Landlord of downtown club, scene of 2 stabbings, is charged

September 05, 2001|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

The landlord of a building housing a downtown nightclub where two men were stabbed early Monday has been charged with reckless endangerment, police said, after he apparently ignored Fire Department orders to shutter the hangout last week.

Jay A. Benjamin, 38, was cited for numerous fire code violations and was ordered Thursday to close the Tunnel nightclub at 320 N. Eutaw St., officials said.

Benjamin apparently did not close the club, and two men were stabbed there during a fight about 12:05 a.m. Monday, police said.

"If it had been closed, the stabbing might not have happened," said Maj. J. Charles Gutberlet III, commander of the Central Police District.

When police got to the scene, they called for backup to handle the crowd. "There were no lights in the dance hall area where the attack occurred," Gutberlet said. "No one would take credit for being in charge."

Police charged Benjamin with reckless endangerment for failing to close the club on the Fire Department's orders, Gutberlet said.

Police have linked one homicide and six shootings since mid-December to incidents that began inside the club.

Benjamin, who lives in Ellicott City, could not be reached for comment yesterday. He bought the complex that houses the Tunnel last year for $510,000.

He drew the attention of police and business leaders, including the Downtown Partnership and WestSide Renaissance. Those groups and police filed a petition this year asking the city liquor board to revoke the complex's liquor license, which Benjamin holds.

In their petition, the business groups and police noted rowdy crowds, fire code violations and violence. The liquor board denied their request but ordered the club to file an additional security plan, which Benjamin did in July.

It is unclear what sparked the violence Monday morning or how someone got a sharp object into the Tunnel.

Sirjohn Hosear, 23, and Mark Cartwright, 18, were stabbed several times. They were taken to Maryland Shock Trauma Center, where they were treated and released, hospital officials said.

Sun staff writer Richard Irwin contributed to this article.

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