2013 Columbus homicides: Six of 18 murders remain unsolved

tchitwood@ledger-enquirer.comNovember 2, 2013 

For months four names stood out as Columbus tracked this year's homicides: Brenda Lowe, Kristan "Blake" Dozier, Shannon Fields and Vashun Lemont Ramsey.

Through September those were the city's only unsolved homicides of 2013 -- out of a total of 16, which was just one fewer than Muscogee County had for all of 2012.

Now, with October come and gone, Columbus can add two more names to the list: Andy Phillip, found shot in his mother's car on Oct. 9, and Dior Cheney, fatally shot Tuesday in a car on Benning Drive near Head Street.

With two months left, Columbus at 18 has one-upped its total slayings from 2012.

Of particular concern to police is the apparent uptick in reckless, public gunfire that sends bullets flying far from their intended targets. It puts everyone at risk -- children playing on the streets or in their yards, residents in homes where shots come through windows and walls, motorists passing within range of gunmen firing at other vehicles.

And, as in the case of Columbus' first homicide of the year, in nightclubs where guests uninvolved in whatever provoked the violence are injured by stray bullets.

Gun violence

The year was only 2½ hours old when gunfire erupted at the Majestic Lounge, 2102 Cusseta Road, where seven people were wounded, one fatally. Hit in the chest, Charles Foster Jr., 24, died at the hospital that night. His homicide here in Columbus was reported on National Public Radio in a piece on gun violence and its toll.

Police later charged Dequandrea Artavas Truitt and Shaquille Porter with Foster's slaying.

Three months later, homicide investigators were at another nightclub shooting. Shannon Calvin "Scooter" Fields Jr., 20, was gunned down inside the Foxy Lady Lounge, a 3023 Victory Drive strip club. Wounded in the barrage was 25-year-old Samuel Lamar Cash, shot in the right arm and right foot.

Fields was killed March 27. Four days later, detectives had another case of multiple shots fired in a homicide, this one on the street. At 12:45 p.m. March 31, passers-by found Terry Hargett, 25, slumped over in his car at Old Cusseta Road and Antietam Drive. Rushed to the hospital, he was pronounced dead at 1:48 p.m.

"He had numerous gunshot wounds," said Muscogee County Deputy Coroner Charles Newton.

Police charged 19-year-old Devante Oshea Shepard in Hargett's homicide.

On July 31, detectives again were on the scene of a fatal shooting in an automobile: They found Curtis Taron Turner, 32, dead from a gunshot wound to the back of the head after his car crashed into a house on North Oakley Drive. A witness told them Turner had bought crack cocaine from a dealer who started following him down Buena Vista Road.

A chase ensued. Turner turned on Tennessee Drive and then onto Monticello Drive, where a hail of bullets hit his vehicle, one striking him in the head. Police later said Turner had cheated his drug dealer by paying for his crack with counterfeit money. David Lee Morris, 24, was charged with Turner's homicide.

On Sept. 19, suspects fired more than 30 rounds at the car David Lee Scott was driving at Coolidge Avenue and Seventh Street. In the barrage of gunfire, the assailants wounded one of their own accomplices, investigators said. Scott, 34, was hit in the head, and died the next morning in the hospital.

Charged in that case were Tyrecquiss Shaewaun Wells, 22; Jayln Trevonta Dixon, 20; Christopher Whitaker, 22; and Christopher Pender, 21.

Reckless firing

Two more car shootings followed: On Oct. 9, 30-year-old Andy Phillip was found dead from a gunshot wound to the back in his mother's 1997 Mazda Protege outside 2934 Branton Woods Drive. He was in the front passenger seat with his feet sticking out the driver's side door.

Police said bullets apparently were fired into the car through the rear passenger window. That case so far remains unsolved. So does Tuesday's homicide, also a street shooting, but a much more public one.

Dior T. Cheney, 23, was hit in the head as multiple shots were fired at 8:13 p.m. into the silver 2010 Ford Focus he was driving. A passenger was wounded.

As in Hargett's case, Charles Newton, the deputy coroner, was summoned to document the death.

"The car was quite shot up," he said.

Such street shootings worry police, who fear stray bullets will find other targets.

"The last couple of ones that happened out on the street obviously were more dangerous than usual because they were discharging firearms directly out in the public where anybody could be passing by," said police Maj. Gene Hillhouse, who heads the department's investigative bureau.

Police hope witnesses who otherwise are reluctant to give authorities tips to a suspect's identity realize such reckless shooters endanger everyone, the major said.

"The rounds have to go somewhere, and that's what worries me, with innocent bystanders passing by on foot or in a vehicle, or in a house close by, or a business, wherever they happen to be," he said.

"That's the reason the people that do this sort of thing, we need the help with the most, because we need to get them out of the public the quickest."

If they're willing to fire recklessly out on the street once, then they'll likely do it as a matter of course, unconcerned about the possible consequences: "Obviously they pose more of a threat to public safety when they're that wild," Hillhouse said.

Witnesses who avoid interacting with police need to realize the danger their inaction could facilitate, he said. They could be the next victims of stray bullets -- "them or someone in their family, some loved one, some small child," the major said.

It has happened in larger cities such as Chicago, where public gunfights have taken the lives of children caught in the crossfire.

The public here helped police clear Scott's Sept. 19 homicide, calling detectives that night to tell what they knew about the gunmen involved. Investigators need that same kind of help with the other unsolved slayings, particularly those in which shooters showed no regard for where their bullets went.

Detectives need any information they can get -- suspects' nicknames, descriptions, any vehicles they're know to drive or hangouts they're known to frequent. Tipsters can pass that on by calling detectives at 706-653-3400, Hillhouse said.

Their own families, friends and neighbors are at risk, he said: "I hate to jinx us by saying anything, but you know, we need to be aware that anything could happen anywhere at any time, and when we don't want to get involved when we know something, we're not doing our own families much justice."

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