Chuck Williams: Historic District residents walking a little uneasy after latest fire

July 8, 2013 

With her husband's truck on fire Saturday night, Susan Berry was still telling a stranger that the Historic District is a great place to live.

The young woman -- Berry has no clue who she was -- knocked frantically on the Front Avenue door to alert the Berrys their truck, parked against the curb, was burning.

"She and her boyfriend had been downtown and were riding around the neighborhood looking at houses," Berry said.

The woman told Berry she was thinking about living in the Historic District. This is not exactly how a real estate agent would show property.

"I told her, 'Don't let this stop you,'" Berry said. "We have a great neighborhood."

You have to live in the Historic District to fully understand that sentiment.

For the second time in five years, the Berrys have been victims of arson that is centered along Front Avenue and Broadway, near Fifth and Sixth streets.

• In 2008, three cars were set on fire, including a Jeep Cherokee that belonged to Berry.

• In 2011, three more cars along Broadway and Fifth Street were set on fire.

• In May, five cars along Front Avenue, Broadway and Sixth Street were set on fire. The arsonist -- or arsonists -- also set fire to a grill cover on the back porch of a Front Avenue home.

• Saturday night about 10:30, the Berrys' 2009 Chevrolet truck was set on fire.

To be fair, similar car fires began in 2006 when seven vehicles were burned in north Columbus, near Heath Park.

All of that said, this is serious folks. And I don't just say that because I live in the Historic District. Mayor Teresa Tomlinson has formed a task force that includes Columbus police, Columbus Fire & Emergency Medical Services and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Monday, law enforcement was canvassing the neighborhood, looking for clues.

Anything.

But while they look, many of us who live in the Historic District are becoming keenly aware of our surroundings.

And it's not an easy place to observe the obvious. In fact, it is a difficult place to look for things that are out of the ordinary. People come and go at all hours. We have college kids who carry musical instruments to Columbus State University at odd times. Add to that people who don't live along Broadway, Front Avenue and the cross streets, but walk them day and night.

You have many visitors to Columbus, a lot of them staying at the downtown Marriott, who walk the Historic District. So, you always have the foot traffic and the only thing that changes is the faces.

The people who live in the Historic District are walking a little uneasy right now -- and rightfully so.

I guess I can speak for my neighbors when I say we are not only concerned. I have talked to enough of them to know we're collectively angry. We know police officers and fire investigators are working around the clock. And it's appreciated.

But we just want the person -- or persons -- responsible for this caught. And we know we are not alone. I am certain right now that residents in Green Island Hills want the person -- or persons -- responsible for a rash of family silver thefts in that neighborhood caught, too.

But those of us who live downtown are kind of different. We know we live in an area that has its issues with crime. Much of it is petty stuff like stealing a bicycle off a porch.

Torching cars and setting fires on back porches is not petty, and that is the issue here and now. By the grace of God, no one has been hurt. That is one of the few positives out of this.

To the person -- or persons -- doing this: I hope you read this. You have an entire neighborhood looking for you. You have a law enforcement task force looking for you.

You are going to screw up. People like you usually do.

We just hope it's sooner rather than later.

Chuck Williams, senior editor for content, chwilliams@ledger-enquirer.com.

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