Sunday, September 03, 2000

In lieu of a town square . . .


Fast-food hangouts draw kids just looking for something to do

By Ken Alltucker
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The well-lit parking lots on Colerain Avenue are enticing meeting spots for Mount Airy kids looking for excitement.

        Older teen-agers drive to the United Dairy Farmers store or Taco Bell to chat, munch on fast food or just hang out. Younger ones hit the same spots, only they walk or pedal a bike.

[photo] Jason Lewis, 17, and Matt Wallace, 17, both LaSalle students, sit on the back of a truck eating Mexican food in a Mount Airy parking lot early Saturday.
(Brandi Stafford photos)
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        Courtney Mathis, 12, wanted to be part of the older crowd.

        A handful of teens hanging out at the popular spots just after midnight Friday questioned why Courtney had sneaked to UDF in a relative's car the night before and tried to flee a police officer, dragging the officer to his death in the process.

        “It was really a dumb thing to do,” said Matt Wallace, 17, eating a burrito in the bed of a pickup truck parked in the Taco Bell parking lot.

        “We pretty much just drive around looking for stuff to do ... (but) if a cop stopped us, that's it,” said a shirtless Matt, raising his hands as if complying with an officer's orders.

        Down the street, in the Bahama Terrace apartment complex where Courtney lived, neighbor Kevin Evans, 19, remembered talking with his younger friend for two hours earlier that night. Courtney never mentioned the planned trip to UDF.

        But Mr. Evans wasn't surprised to find out the boy had been driving. In fact, Mr. Evans said, he had caught Courtney preparing to sneak away in his mother's car several times. Each time, he said, he told him to stop and return home.

        “He wanted to be like us,” said Mr. Evans, motioning to Josh Enoch, another neighbor and friend. “He tried to grow up too fast. He was only in seventh grade. He didn't get to see high school, even junior high.”

        Mr. Evans and Josh, 15, frequently tossed around a football on the rolling green lawns of their apartment complex. Courtney, who was large for his size, was always eager to play.

        “Play football and drive,” Josh said. “That's what he wanted to do.”

[photo] Josh Enoch, 15, says 12-year-old Courtney Mathis just wanted to hang out with the older guys.
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        Perhaps Courtney looked up to Josh, a varsity football player at AikenHigh School, or Mr. Evans, a recent graduate. He wanted to be part of their group.

        But he also played video games and pulled childish pranks. Some got him into trouble at Mt. Airy School, said Angel Marsh, 14.

        “I guess that boy was looking for excitement,” said Angel, in front of a UDF pay phone. "It's not here.”

        Angel and her friends head to UDF to buy sodas or snacks. But it's not a big hangout, especially for kids.

        Angel said she recently got into trouble at Mt. Airy school. It was Officer Kevin Crayon — the officer who was dragged to death by the car Courtney was driving — who responded to talk to her. She was impressed with his demeanor; he was nice and seemed to care.

        “He was really cool,” she said. “He talked to me, told me not to do it again.”

        Angel's friend, Jeff Aikins, said the UDF, Thornton's Food Mart and Taco Bell are just a few places kids under 18 can go at night.

        “I don't know why he would go there at night,” Mr. Evans said. “It doesn't make sense. If he wanted food, he should be going to the refrigerator.”

        Courtney arrived at the UDF about 12:45 a.m., just 15 minutes before the store closed and a 1 a.m. citywide curfew kicked in.

        The curfew, enforced by police and parents, is serious business for Mount Airy kids. A half-dozen patrol cruisers circled the Colerain Avenue area from midnight to 1 a.m. Saturday.

        Matt Wallace, a LaSalle High School senior, said his parents put him on restriction if he stays out past 1 a.m. He said he hasn't noticed many kids out past curfew on Colerain Avenue.

        Mr. Evans said his younger friend may have thought he was invincible, or maybe he thought the drive to UDF was short enough it carried little risk.

        “I know you ain't invincible,” said Mr. Evans, shaking his head. “It was just up this street, down the road. Nothing's guaranteed.”
       
In the Line of Duty, a special section on Officer Crayon

       



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