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With hot weather, more people outside and students out of school, July and August are traditionally the busiest months for the Lorain Police Department. Overnight shifts on the weekend are often the busiest time. To give readers a better idea how police cope during busy shifts, reporter Evan Goodenow spent about eight hours riding along with officers overnight this weekend.
LORAIN — The bar fight at Gil’s International Lounge on East 28th Street was over by the time police Officer Wesley Fordyce arrived around 1:25 a.m. Saturday, but the night was still young. Minutes after Fordyce arrived, he was soon back in his cruiser heading to the possible shooting of a 16-year-old in the 800 block of West 17th Street.
“Welcome to the weekend,” Fordyce said as he headed to the crime scene with a caravan of cruisers at 70 mph with lights and sirens activated. Patrol work is often feast or famine, but officers like Fordyce usually find themselves bouncing from call to call overnight on weekends.
Through Friday morning, officers had responded to 33,482 calls so far this year, according to Lorain police. That compares with 29,501 at the same time last year, an approximately 13.5 percent increase. July was the busiest month this year with 5,640 calls.
Many of the calls were routine — earlier, Fordyce had counseled a suicidal female and checked out a suspicious car parked in the driveway of a vacant home — but shooting calls are the most serious. Around 3:30 a.m. Friday, Officer Craig Payne apprehended city resident Brandon Atkinson at gunpoint after Atkinson allegedly shot a man in the foot.
Nearly 24 hours later, Payne, a 32-year-old officer who joined the department in 2005, tried to sort out the details of the latest incident from the woozy 16-year-old who was bleeding from the head.
“Is that a bullet wound or did you get pistol whipped?” Payne asked the boy as they sit in an ambulance.
The boy told Payne he was pistol whipped and then shot at as he ran. A bloody handprint was on the porch of the house in the 1600 block of Washington Avenue that the boy ran through as he fled.
“I heard a boom-boom, and he just ran up on my porch,” a woman at the house told police. “There’s blood all over the place.”
The boy said the shooters accused him of shooting into a house earlier in the day which he denied. Witnesses said the boy has a bounty of “75 stacks” on his head.
Stacks is slang for bindles of heroin, which have an approximately $20 street value, meaning the bounty is about $1,600. “Seventy-five bindles is a lot for a heroin addict, or you could sell it,” Fordyce said.
The incident was one of about 20 calls Fordyce had responded to since his shift officially began at 6 p.m. Fordyce also handled eight calls between 2:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. on overtime.
Patrol officers work 12-hour shifts from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. On Saturday night, there were 10 officers on patrol including a rookie riding with a field training officer. The department, which is hiring nine new officers, has 91 officers but about 20 unfilled positions due to budget constraints.
Fordyce — a 34-year-old officer who joined Lorain police last year after eight years as a Cleveland Clinic police officer — said this summer seems busier than last year. He predicted that the department will probably exceed the 49,963 calls responded to last year.
“For the size of our city, we have an immense call volume,” Fordyce said. “We’ve had a lot more shootings, felonious assaults and stabbings than we did last year.”
During slow periods, Fordyce tries to be proactive. He advised a suspected prostitute walking on Oberlin Avenue near West 16th Street to go home, warning her that two women were recently assaulted in the area. He reluctantly told youths playing basketball in the playground at Washington Elementary School to leave. Fordyce would prefer to let them play, but a city ordinance forbids people from being on school grounds when school’s out.
“When they’re playing ball and having a good time they’re not shooting each other up,” he said. “Sometimes you hate to send them back to their homes because they don’t have a home life.”
Around 4 a.m., 15 or 16 shots were fired from a vehicle at another car in the 1300 block of West 14th Street, but the shooter was long gone when police arrived. Because 911 calls must be routed from county dispatchers to local dispatchers before officers get information, Fordyce said it’s tough to catch drive-by shooters.
“Sometimes it seems like we’re going all night chasing those guys,” he said. “We’ll be chasing shadows all night.”
Saturday night ended with shots fired in a domestic dispute around 11:55 p.m. in the 100 block of West 23rd Street. Angry about her husband going to a bar, an Akron resident told officers she snatched the keys from his car. He followed her to her car and demanded them back. The wife, who was charged with domestic violence and illegally discharging a firearm, admitted she pulled out a .32-caliber semiautomatic pistol and fired two shots in the air as she and her husband argued.
“Fun, fun, fun, another gun,” said Officer Corey Middlebrooks as officers searched for the shell casings. Middlebrooks, a narcotics officer, said the pistol was the fourth gun police seized last week.
Middlebrooks, a 42-year-old officer who joined the department in 1998, and his partner, Christopher Colon, ride in an unmarked vehicle and back up patrol officers on serious calls such as the shooting incident. However, their primary job is narcotics interdiction. As they drove around the west side of the city early Sunday morning, they pointed out several drug houses they helped shut down.
Narcotics officers have been nicknamed “the jump out boys” by local drug dealers for quickly getting out of their unmarked vehicle to make street arrests. They play a cat and mouse game with drug dealers, shifting their work schedules to keep the dealers on their toes.
“Our road guys do a hell of a job, but they don’t have the time to just sit and watch a drug house,” said Colon, a 37-year-old officer who joined the department in 1999. “The minute we leave and neglect this area, things start happening.”
On a traffic stop of a suspected drug dealer on West 20th Street around 1:30 a.m. Sunday, Middlebrooks pulled William T. Malone out of the passenger side of a pickup truck. He recognized Malone — a 38-year-old city resident with an extensive criminal record — from a recent drug house raid.
“Did you spit the dope out?” Middlebrooks asked Malone. “You got a mouth full of crack!”
Middlebrooks recovered a rock of crack about the size of a baby’s tooth that Malone allegedly tried to swallow. Malone is due in Lorain Municipal Court this morning on cocaine possession, possession of drug paraphernalia and tampering with evidence charges.
While the department is short on officers and long on calls, officers like Fordyce said they enjoy working nights. Fordyce said he took a big pay cut after leaving the Cleveland Clinic, but likes patrolling his hometown and working with fellow officers whom he said he trusts with his life.
“We get paid a lot less than other departments and do a s—load more work than they do,” he said. “You’re here because you want to be.”
Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
LORAIN — An hour before Wednesday’s weekly dinner at the Catholic Charities Lorain Family Center, the waiting room is full. About 50 clients, including a few children and elderly people, sit at tables conversing while a young boy plays chess.
Lorain Schools, which serves meals to children, are out for most of the summer, making July and August the busiest months at the center, which serves poor people. And with the economy struggling, demand is up.
David Boyce said the center — which served about 28,000 meals last year to approximately 3,300 clients — has seen an approximately 10 percent increase in demand since the recession, which officially began in December 2007.
“Lorain does have a high poverty rate, a high unemployment rate, and that’s reflected in the number of people we feed every day as well as the number of people who come to our (food) pantry,” he said. “The need’s been increasing, (and) we try to anticipate that as we look toward the future.”
On Wednesdays, the food pantry provides baked goods and produce from area grocery stores whose shelf life has been exhausted but remain edible. Clients, who are called alphabetically, can choose eight items.
“If your name starts with an F or G, you can come in,” Karen Leadbetter, center food service coordinator, told clients. “There’s some really nice peaches over here if you want them.”
In addition to the weekly distribution, clients can pick up food once a month from a “choice pantry” with amounts based upon family size.
“It’s a very dignified way of giving them an opportunity to take those foods instead of just giving them a grocery bag,” Boyce said. “The choice pantry gives them a say in the food they get to bring home.”
The food is donated to the shelter through Second Harvest Food Bank of North Central Ohio, which helped feed 77,000 people in Crawford, Erie, Huron and Lorain counties last year, according to its website. That’s a 134 percent increase since 2006.
“They have a chance to get produce that maybe they normally wouldn’t go to a store and purchase,” Boyce said of clients, many of whose food stamps run out before the end of the month. “We get a variety. It just depends on what the stores turn in.”
Boyce said the majority of clients are between the ages of 20 and 45. Nearly all are Lorain County residents, and most are unemployed, although some work part time.
In addition to food, the center also provides anger management, job training and musical therapy classes, as well as free monthly medical exams and a free eyeglass program. The center — part of the Diocese of Cleveland — has an annual budget of about $290,000 and a staff of two full-time and two part-time employees. The staff includes a resources coordinator who connects clients with drug rehabilitation, heating assistance, housing or psychiatric programs.
“We want to make it kind of a one-stop place for individuals to come in and achieve a variety of different kinds of services,” Boyce said. “We really do a lot of other kinds of things that will help individuals meet some of their basic needs.”
Boyce said the center works closely with area providers such as the Neighborhood House Association, the Nord Center and the Salvation Army. The center also relies on about 700 volunteers including about 50 regulars.
Boyce, 58, worked in education publishing before becoming director in 2008. While a completely different environment, he said the transition has been smooth and he enjoys the work despite its challenging nature.
“Our mission is still to treat everybody with respect and dignity that walks through these doors and do our best to meet the needs they have,” he said. “We’re just going to keep plugging away and doing the best we can to serve these men and women.”
Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or email@example.com.
ELYRIA — Lou Rotunda graduated from Elyria High School, worked 44 years at The Chronicle-Telegram, was a lifelong member of St. Mary Church, was heavily involved in CYO, belonged to the Knights of Columbus, the Elyria United Polish Club and the Elyria Senior Fellowship and was both a Moose and an Elk.
While he was certainly proud of each and every organization on that list, his one true love was obvious to anyone who knew him or even just met him: Elyria Catholic High School.
“His whole life was Elyria Catholic,” former EC basketball coach Bob Guinta said.
Rotunda, who served as freshman basketball coach, assistant athletic director, equipment manager, substitute teacher and supporter without peer at Elyria Catholic, died Sunday morning at The Abbewood. He was 85.
In a life of service and dedication to others, one thing is clear: They didn’t call Rotunda “Mr. Elyria Catholic” for nothing.
“His life was sewn into the very fabric that is the school’s mission,” said Elyria Catholic president and longtime friend Andrew Krakowiak. “I never knew anyone who loved Elyria Catholic as much as he did.”
Krakowiak first met Rotunda when Krakowiak was coaching basketball with his brother at Holy Name High School nearly 30 years ago.
“He came down and sat on the bench with me and introduced himself,” Krakowiak said. “He said, ‘I love the way you guys coach your teams.’ … He loved his basketball. He loved to talk basketball until the very end. … He was very sharp, very sharp until the end.”
Despite not being a basketball player himself, Rotunda became EC’s first freshman coach in 1954 and kept the job until 1993, compiling an impressive 419-223 record. He had just four losing seasons in all those years.
He grew in the job, too. Suzanne Camp, a teacher and former coach and assistant AD at EC, remembers when she was hired to coach girls basketball 37 years ago.
“I had no experience whatsoever,” Camp said. “Lou would diagram plays for me. Even though he was coaching the boys, he took time to come to our practices and work with the girls. He was just an outstanding help to me and always was a true friend to everyone. He genuinely cared for the students, and not just the athletes.
“His memory is going to live in the halls of EC forever. The loyalty he had for the school is amazing. He will truly be missed.”
It was also basketball that led former Chronicle sports editor Jerry Rombach to Rotunda when Rombach arrived in town in 1965.
“He was Mr. Basketball,” Rombach said. “One of our editors told me to call Lou Rotunda to get all the background on Elyria Catholic and the area sports.”
Rotunda filled Rombach in over lunch and the two became good friends as well as co-workers. Rotunda was city assistant circulation manager for 20 years at The Chronicle before moving to the composing room.
Rotunda accompanied Rombach and former Chronicle sportswriter Roger Negin to many EC games over the years.
“We had a lot of long talks,” Rombach said. “He’s an institution at Elyria Catholic. He really is. He’s almost a legend. He told me players he coached 30 years ago would send him cards and letters.”
Rotunda didn’t come from a big family and he never married. He is survived by his sister-in-law, Mrs. Sam Rotunda, a niece and a nephew, and several great-nieces.
“He’d send cards to kids when they graduated,” said Guinta, who, like Rotunda, was inducted into the Elyria Sports Hall of Fame. “It was his life.”
“I know the kids liked him,” Guinta added. “He took an interest in the kids. That was his whole life. You didn’t say anything about Elyria Catholic.”
When Rombach began the Pick-It-Line, a longtime Chronicle tradition in which members of the sports department pick the winners of the area high school football games, he included Rotunda. It became a good-natured running joke that Rotunda would never pick against the Panthers.
“EC could be playing Notre Dame or Ohio State and he’d still pick EC,” Guinta said with a laugh. “He didn’t want to bend and give up that loyalty to his school.”
Of course, that loyalty is what set Rotunda apart. Krakowiak said there’s a line in the EC alma mater that makes him think of Rotunda every time he hears it.
Loyalty that never dies.
“I really think he is the epitome of that line,” Krakowiak said. “He was a man of great integrity and loyalty. He was truly a man of God. He will be missed but his presence will always be there.”
Besides the Elyria Sports Hall of Fame (he is a member of the class of 1978), Rotunda was also inducted into the Lorain County Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1994 and the Elyria High School Distinguished Alumni Hall of Fame in 2000. In 1956 he received the Eagle of the Cross for Youth Work from the Cleveland Diocese and was awarded the Ohio High School Athletic Association State Award in 1999-2000 for exemplary contribution and services.
His contributions to EC are almost impossible to list, but include raising money for the school’s trophy cases and helping design them, helping to design the 3,000-seat Coliseum, making the victory bell and starting the Panther Club. He also attended almost every boys basketball and football game as well as numerous other sports and activities at the school over the years.
Perhaps the contribution he was most proud of was the Lou Rotunda Award he started, which has been given to the best all-around senior male athlete at EC since 1960. The award is based on athletics, academics and extra-curricular activities and is voted on by faculty, staff and students.
“He really did represent all the school stands for,” Krakowiak said.
And even when the first impression Rotunda made wasn’t a great one, it was difficult to stay angry at him. Just ask Mark Reichlin.
Reichlin, one of the owners of Reichlin Roberts Funeral Home and an EC graduate, has a distinct memory of Rotunda.
“He cut me as a freshman basketball player,” Reichlin said.
But that didn’t stop Reichlin and Rotunda from becoming friends. In the past few years, when Rotunda had trouble getting around, it was Reichlin who made sure he got to the events he wanted to attend.
“He’d always laugh, ‘Why are you so nice to me? I cut you.’ ”
Maybe it has something to do with loyalty.
Funeral arrangements were incomplete Sunday and were to be announced today by Reichlin Roberts Funeral Home.
Contact Kevin Aprile at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
ELYRIA — An Elyria man was found hanged under the Gulf Road/Ohio Turnpike overpass in an apparent suicide.
Deputy Coroner Eric Lockhart said the man was found hanging by his belt from a fence by a motorcyclist who had stopped to get out of the rain around noon today.
Lockhart said the man, who was in his late 40s, will be identified Monday after his relatives have been informed. No suicide note was found, Lockhart said.