Monday, October 6, 2003

After murder, neighbors organize a block watch

By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

LAKESIDE PARK - Nearly three months after an elderly widower was bludgeoned to death in his home, residents are forming a block watch group.

It is the neighborhood's first block watch in about a decade.

"I think a lot of people on the street had become complacent," said block captain Andy Tillinghast. "They slipped into that Mayberry mentality. It's a nice street that we live on, but sometimes bad things happen on good streets."

Since the July 12 murder of 83-year-old Earl Rusche, his neighbors say they've made a special effort to get to know one another and to watch out for those around them.

Efforts of the block watch group include:

•  Working with city officials to erect more "slow, children at play" signs in a neighborhood with dozens of children 10 and younger.

•  At residents' request, Lakeside Park-Crestview Hills Police have run radar and stepped up traffic enforcement in recent months to deter drivers who exceed the neighborhood's 20 mph speed limit. Some blame the speeding problems on the newly paved streets, while others suspect drivers unfamiliar with the area mistakenly believe Carran Drive is the exit to nearby Interstate 275.

•  A new block watch group has met three times since Rusche's murder to develop crime-fighting strategies. It plans to meet next on Nov. 18 to discuss how to prevent holiday crime. The group also plans to host a neighborhood block party next spring to help neighborhood newcomers and longtime residents meet.

•  By mid-month, neighborhood leaders hope to have new block watch signs at the beginning, middle and end of tree-lined Carran Drive, as well as on the four dead-end streets it intersects.

Police have said Anthony Wayne Ferry, 24, who lived at Rusche's Carran Drive home, and Jeremy C. Neimer, 21, of Crescent Springs, asked the elderly man for money. When he refused, police say, they attacked him in his bed with an ice scraper, then stuffed his body in a small storage room.

"(Rusche) worked every day at Avis (Rent A Car)," said Kenton County Police Detective Wayne Wallace, the lead investigator on the case. He said the two suspects in Rusche's killing were heavy drug users who frequented the elderly man's property when Rusche was at work.

"This was a place for them to hang out and not be bothered," Wallace said.

Kenton County Commonwealth Attorney Bill Crockett is seeking the death penalty in the case, and Kenton Circuit Judge Gregory M. Bartlett has said he would like to see the case go to trial within six months. More should be known after an Oct. 13 status conference.

Since the two men were arrested and jailed, Betty DeVita said her street seems more calm. In April, the Carran Drive resident awoke to find an intruder in her home. DeVita startled the man, and he fled. No arrest was made.

"A lot more people have their antennas on now," DeVita said.

"I believe the murder was an isolated incident," said 23-year resident Libby Dermody. "But it brought everyone together to form the neighborhood watch. We're trying to look out for one another now."

Gerry Scaringi, who's lived on Carran Drive for 12 years, agreed.

"The murder was just the final straw," Scaringi said. "People were concerned about burglaries and speeders and other things that were going on."

As the father of two girls ages 6 and 4, Scaringi lobbied to get new "slow children at play" signs erected about 11/2 months ago.

"People had a lot of questions when the murder happened," said Officer Brad Degenhardt, the Lakeside Park-Crestview Hills Police Department's liaison with the new block watch group. "Many are still concerned, but once they started to become informed, they focused a lot of their attention on other issues - things like speeders and (drivers running) stop signs and (the need for more) children at play signs."

At last week's neighborhood watch meeting, Degenhardt urged residents to turn on outside lights at night, notify the police department and trusted neighbors before leaving on vacation, and to call police when they see anything suspicious. Residents who have an alarm system also should make sure that it's properly maintained to avoid false alarms.

"There's no better way to protect your house when you're gone, other than good neighbors and a good alarm system," Degenhardt said.



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