Anyone who has paid attention to the crime blotter over the course of the last year knows the East End of Lakewood is not the safest place in the city. This is not to say the area is a total dump. It is not. The majority of its homes are well kept. Most of its citizens are law abiding. Nevertheless, the East End has a stew of problematic ingredients that make it Lakewood’s weakest link. The area deserves far more attention than it currently receives.
The Vincent Drost tragedy occurred nearly 14 years ago. I dredge it up to help ponder the future. Is the East End of Lakewood better off now than it was then? Could the same incident happen today? What condition will it be in 14 years from now?
The following account was gleamed from newspaper coverage at the time of event.
A little before 11:00 p.m. on Sunday, July 9, 1995, Ridgewood Ave. resident Vincent Drost, 38, walked to a payphone located at the corner of Hopkins and Madison. He had lived in Lakewood for a year, but didn’t yet have a phone in his apartment. He made the same trip each night to call his girlfriend in Montana. She was selling their home and expected to join him in Lakewood in two weeks.
Drost, who worked at a Westlake bookstore and was also an artist and musician, finished his call and headed back home. He traveled only a short distance before he was surrounded by five black juvenile males including: Antonio Davis, 18, of Lakewood; Avery Holland, 17, of Cleveland; and Anthony Wilson, 17, of Lakewood.
In a lethal attack that lasted less than half a minute, Drost was restrained by Antonio Davis while Holland took a buck knife and stabbed him in the heart and then, as he fell to his knees, in the back. Wilson beat him with a tree branch as he lay dying on the sidewalk. Bystanders who witnessed the event heard Drost’s final words: “Oh no, oh no, oh no.”
The assailants stole Drost’s wallet and fled. It contained just one dollar, an identification card, and a bus pass. He was Lakewood’s first murder victim since 1991, when Stacey Deveraux had his throat slit at an East End hotel in a drug deal gone bad.
Lakewood police cars were on the scene within eight minutes of the assault. They recovered the knife in some bushes about a block away and quickly arrested three of the suspects. Two other suspects were picked-up later.
Deborah Davis, the mother of Antonio Davis, was also arrested for lying to police after she claimed all five juveniles were with her at her Newman Ave. home at the time of the incident. She had prior convictions of grand theft of welfare services, receiving stolen property, forgery, possession of criminal tools, and theft. She was eventually given 90 days in jail.
Her son agreed to a plea deal and testified against the other suspects. He was found guilty of aggravated robbery and aggravated murder and received a sentence of 30 years to life. He is currently imprisoned at London Correctional Institute. His first parole hearing will be in April of 2016.
Anthony Wilson was found guilty of aggravated robbery and aggravated murder and received a sentence of 30 years to life. At his trial, his mother testified that she moved her family to Lakewood from Cleveland to have a better life, but experienced racial hostility. He is currently imprisoned at Grafton Correctional Institution. His first parole hearing will be in June of 2016.
Avery Holland, who stabbed Drost to death, was found guilty of aggravated robbery, aggravated murder, and theft. Due to his age at the time, he was not eligible for the death penalty. He was sentenced to 30 years to life and is currently imprisoned at Lebanon Correctional Institution. His first parole hearing will be in December 2032.
The other two juveniles in the incident were acquitted largely due to Davis’ testimony that they were walking away as the attack began.
City officials removed the payphone that Drost used and planted a 12-foot honey locust tree in his memory.
Dick Feagler – then a Lakewood resident – wrote several good columns on the story.
Lakewood is a wonderful town. I grew up in Cleveland and stayed here and I’ve lived East, West and South. But my last 14 years in Lakewood have been the best.
The downtown is pleasant and viable. The population is ethnically diverse. The schools are old but well-maintained, with mottos carved above their doors which praise the virtues of education and remind the reader that our children will determine our future.
There are mansions and rows of high-rise apartments and inexpensive walk-ups. There are streets of Victorian houses and tree-shaded blocks of nice, frame starter homes for young families. Young women jog alone and fearlessly along Lake Ave. well after dark. Public Square is a convenient 10 minutes away.
If you ask around Lakewood, you will hear a lot of complaints about too much rental property and too much Section 8 government-subsidized housing. You will hear fear and frustration and racial distrust and ethnic distrust and distrust of the poor.
But beneath the surface where the real action is, little, telling changes take place. Fewer young women jog down Lake Ave. after dark. Mothers worry a little more about their kids in Lakewood Park. The “starter family” begins scanning the real estate section, looking at the prices of the houses in those new treeless developments an hour’s commute from town. [more]
Well, the death of Vincent Drost is unacceptable. This whole epidemic of senseless, violent slaughter is unacceptable. Accepting it will bring no relief.
So we have to do something about it. And yesterday, my phone kept ringing with calls from people who had ideas about what to do. Some of them said we all ought to be allowed to carry guns. Some of them said that parents should be held severely responsible for the actions of their children, as owners of pit bulls are responsible for the mayhem of their animals.
Some thought we ought to start treating juvenile offenders as adults. Some thought we ought to keep a sharp watch on the occupants of subsidized housing.
Whether these ideas are good or bad, they are recognitions that we can’t play around with this issue any more. We can’t call the moving van and get away from it. The government isn’t going to solve it for us. We can’t muddy it with racial politics or liberal politics or conservative politics or any kind of politics.
We can’t blame it on poverty or joblessness. Other nations have as much poverty and joblessness as we have, without an epidemic murder rate. We can’t keep using all the little, mushy, cop-out answers we’ve been using while the insanity grows. We have to make a stand. [more]
But I think Drost’s death was one of those events that forces all of us to look into the mirror. And what we confront is a society that must be changed. A society in which African-Americans are the biggest victims with the smallest megaphones. Forced, as usual, to wait until fear strikes the suburbs and action is demanded. [more]
I said after the Drost slaying that I would write more about him. But that is a difficult task, and I’m not sure how to do it. So far, this is a story about innocent victims, random violence, a possibly abused child, lax supervision, a crowded court system, meaningless schooling, rap music, lack of a conscience and a town affected with spreading, low-grade apprehension. It is a story of the America that scares us on the 11 o’clock news.
But what does it all add up to? Where, in these random facts, is a key to a workable solution that goes beyond platitudes? That, like the future of Lakewood, is an open question. [more]
Do I think rap music alone made Avery Holland a murderer? No, sir. Here’s what I think. I think for 17 years he was abused and passed around and ignored and shoved out of sight. I think he grew up belonging to no one, a misfit. And then one night, the slick voices in his head told him there was a whole disgusting way of life that was normal and natural and OK. [more]
Here are a couple of articles regarding the Lakewood mayoral race after the Drost incident. Not so surprisingly, some of the issues being discussed back then are still being talked about today.
Lakewood mayoral race
In the Drost killing, five teenagers were quickly arrested and charged.
Twelve days later, Cain announced she would introduce a bill in Columbus that would make it possible to fine the parents of a child who appears repeatedly in Juvenile Court.
Graham has called for a reasonable curfew, parental accountability, protection of the elderly from con artists and “street thugs,” and increased neighborhood police patrols.
He has also attacked what he describes as unwarranted expansion of subsidized housing. “We have to have some people who pay the taxes,” he said. He also wants Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority tenants screened for criminal records.
Cain has a program to improve safety for the elderly and others and to develop a gang prevention strategy, but she told a house-party gathering, “I will not pander to racism, to fear.” [more]
Madeline Caine Profile
If Cain has her way, she won’t be the only one working hard.
“Lakewood has always had a patriarchal form of government,” says Cain, who will supervise some 600 employees. “City Hall was like a father who took care of the children’s needs. That style of government no longer works. And besides, we can’t afford it.” [more]
And finally, a PD follow-up article written in 2000, five years after the Drost incident.
“This is not a Section 8 housing problem. It is about a crime,” Council President JoAnn Boscia said tersely after several residents asked if the youths lived in federally subsidized housing.
“Associating a crime to [population] density, housing or poverty is not how this community has responded in the past,” she said.
According to the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority, rents are subsidized under the federal Section 8 program for only 106 of Lakewood’s nearly 14,200 rental units – less than 1 percent. [more]
[Note: Lakewood had 440 units in the program as of 09/08]