Crime Scenes: Man found in vacant house is third killing on city block

Crews trying to renovate block find body

November 09, 2010|By Peter Hermann, The Baltimore Sun

This could be called the block of death.

David Mitchell, 16, was shot on a sidewalk here on April 29.

Arthur Peacock, 34, was shot on the street here on Sept. 30.

Derrius Currie, 21, was found shot inside a vacant rowhouse here on Saturday.

Three killings on one city block — more violent death than on any other single block in Baltimore this year.

There have been blocks with two deaths: A man was killed in the 6900 block of McLean Blvd. in January and another in July, and a man was killed in the 2600 block of Quantico Ave. in August and another in September. There have been at least two men killed in single shooting incidents twice this year.

But the 800 block of W. Lexington St. stands alone.

Khalil Thomas, 45, has lived on this street and on this block all his life and says he knew, though not well, all three men who have been killed. He's out of work and making do on public assistance, a few hundred dollars a month to rent a low-income apartment in Poppleton Homes, where he raises his 7-month-old grandson.

"I don't know what's going on," Thomas said Tuesday morning. "It's this environment. This environment brings death."

The killings don't appear to be related, and police have made an arrest in one — the killing of Peacock. The two latest victims have extensive criminal records; Currie had gotten out of jail for car theft just 11 days before his body was found.

The environment is drugs and violence, crime and addiction. A sign on the door of an apartment building warns: "If you're involved with drugs do not bother to apply for residence or employment."

But there is hope for this block.

Hampstead Cos. Inc. is to build Poppleton II, the second part of a $60 million project to bring new, low-income homes to the area around Lexington, Fayette and Fremont streets. The latest project entails knocking down nine vacant houses — including the one where the body was found — and building on 19 vacant lots. Crews broke ground on the project in October.

A city work crew helping to clear out 841 W. Lexington St. found Currie's body. The rowhouse is a three-story with a Formstone facade — the upper windows covered in a blanket of vines, the middle windows broken, the ground-floor windows replaced by wooden boards.

Next to the house is a lot filled knee-high with trash, and next to that is another vacant house. Across the street is Poe Homes, a public housing complex named after Edgar Allen Poe, for this is where the famed author once lived, and it is now listed as a tourist attraction.

The Baltimore Poe House and Museum website, however, urges visitors to "use caution when parking in an urban environment."

It is just blocks from the west-side biotech park that is going up and two blocks from a new six-story, $54 million Forensic Medical Center that opened in September. New houses to replace the vacant dwellings and lots are another welcome upgrade for this neglected street in Poppleton.

Thomas has lived here long enough to remember Lexington Terrace, one of four drug-ridden high-rise public housing towers the city knocked down in the mid-1990s and replaced with mixed-use town houses at a cost of $300 million.

Lexington Terrace loomed over Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, and the suburban-style houses, green plots of grass and cul-de-sacs that replaced the towers stand in sharp contrast to the dilapidated strip of West Lexington Street just a few blocks away.

"I've lost many friends here," Thomas said. "To survive here, you have to go about your business, and mind your own business."

The man walked down Lexington Street toward downtown. Other residents simply shrugged their shoulders — "I don't know what happened," one said — before quickly moving away.

Up the street, contractors were getting ready to renovate a corner store and were shoring up the sides of rowhouses flanking yet another vacant lot to ensure that the buildings don't collapse.

The city workers who had found Currie's body were not there Tuesday, and the house they had been clearing out, as well as the lot filled with trash, remained unkempt. They had come to clean and found death instead; the cleaning would have to wait for another day.

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