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Josh Huckaba operates a one-man auger while his partner Brandon Smith uses a shovel to remove debris along the end of Wimberly Drive Southwest. A motorist struck the fence June 10, damaging a section and knocking down a yellow warning pillar.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Josh Huckaba operates a one-man auger while his partner Brandon Smith uses a shovel to remove debris along the end of Wimberly Drive Southwest. A motorist struck the fence June 10, damaging a section and knocking down a yellow warning pillar.

Drunk driver fuels Wimberly Drive woes
Residents, council push to improve neighborhood

By Catherine Godbey
cgodbey@decaturdaily.com · 340-2441

Sunday, June 10, residents of the Oak Lea subdivision awakened at 3:30 in the morning to a drunk driver plowing through the wooden fence and yellow concrete pillars that separated Georgetown Street and Wimberly Drive.

By Friday, at the request of City Councilman Ronny Russell, construction workers anchored new pillars on Wimberly Drive. This incident, however, amplified the residents’ safety concerns.

Residents first voiced their concerns to Russell, Mayor Don Kyle, Police Chief Ken Collier and Fire Chief Charlie Johnson at a District 4 meeting in March 2006. Their concerns stemmed from illegal activity that took place in the apartments in the 2800 and 2900 blocks of Wimberly Drive.

After the District 4 meeting, the city erected pillars and cited apartment owners in violation of the city’s weed, junk and litter ordinance.

Pillars for protection

Russell said the pillars deter motorists from driving through the fence and also alert them that the road dead-ends. “If a driver attempts to go through the fence, the pillars should stop the vehicle without harming the driver,” Russell said.

In addition to building the pillars, the Community Development Department cited apartments for violations including deteriorating exterior stairs and balconies, inoperable vehicles and discarded household furnishings.

“Up until a month ago it seemed that things had gotten better,” Russell said.

After the June 10 incident, Russell contacted Collier and asked him to look into the number of crimes reported on Wimberly Drive.

“I found no increase in reports of crimes and violent crimes in these last two years. ... We will continue to have the ACU (Anti-Crime Unit) and the narcotics agents give that area extra looks,” Collier said.

Even though the number of violent crimes has not increased, residents still feel they are in danger. Speaking on condition of anonymity, the residents said they are trying to make a family-oriented neighborhood. They said they feel threatened in their homes.

Feeling vulnerable

Russell believes the absence of the separation the fence provided is escalating the residents’ feelings of vulnerability.

This past year, police arrested residents on Wimberly Drive for robbery, burglary and possession of drugs. Residents also reported hearing gunshots and seeing children with pellet guns.

To regain a sense of security, the residents want drastic changes. One resident said a feeling of safety would return if the apartments are condemned or if the landlord rents to only respectful citizens.

The residents feel the state of the apartments attracts vagrants. They plan to petition the Community Development Department and ask for apartment condemnation.

David Lee, a code enforcement officer, said he can condemn a building only if it suffers from extreme structural issues. “There need to be real issues w ith the building that affects the health, safety and general welfare of the building occupants that could result in a loss of life or limb,” he said.

Kyle said, “This (apartment maintenance) is an issue we have to stay on top of with Community Development.”

Since the meeting last year, the department is taking a proactive stance. “We have responded to 18 complaints for Wimberly Drive thus far in 2007... four came from the public and 14 were created by the department,” Lee said.

Legally, the city cannot mandate whom landlords select as occupants. Bill Spurlock manages four apartments that Gary Henry of Oregon owns on Wimberly Drive. Spurlock said he rents only to responsible, law-abiding citizens. “Before I rent to a person, I check their criminal records on alacourt.com. If they have been involved in any activity, I do not rent to them,” he said. Spurlock ensures that he has the legal ability to evict tenants if they become involved in criminal activity. “My leases have in them that there is no illegal activity in the units. If there is any, the renters will be evicted immediately,” Spurlock said.

Not all apartment managers are as stringent. Lynn Shirley, who owns an apartment building on Wimberly Drive, said, “Before I rent to anyone, I check at the courthouse to see if they have any evictions or lawsuits. If they cause a disturbance, I send them a letter giving them a warning.”

Discuss actions

Concerned residents are planning to meet with Russell on Friday night. Russell intends to discuss with them actions the city can undertake.

“I understand their frustrations and concerns and want to make sure they feel safe. ... There is only so much the city can do legally,” he said.

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