The Hot Beat


The second-day story, with your help. Call Gazette reporter Adam Belz at (319) 398-8273 or e-mail him:

Where are Section 8 housing vouchers used in C.R.?

There’s a huge cluster in Wellington Heights. Here’s the map:

Section 8 Housing Map


Filed under: Uncategorized, , , ,

A lesbian, but not a “known” one

My editor has posted a blog item stating that it was a poor way to put it when I wrote that Amy L. Gephart was a “known lesbian.” Considering the multitude of objections to the phrase, I agree with him. It has distracted and detracted from a story that I worked hard on and was proud of.

People have interpreted “known” as a pejorative, like a “known bank robber,” “known philanderer,” or “known failure.” I guess I can see that, but I would like to point out that the word also has a literal meaning. Gephart is “known” to be a lesbian. The words are a hedge, to show that it is not the reporter, Adam Belz, who is claiming this is a fact. Instead of attributing Gephart’s sexual orientation directly to my own imagination or to any of the several people who begged me not to attribute it to them, I tried to couch it in terms of a fact that is well-known in a small town.

That was my mistake and what brought out all the boo-birds. I should have said simply that she is a lesbian, which brings me to the other objection that’s been raised: Why mention it at all?

There are crazy, but strong rumors in Marengo that Amy Gephart’s sexual orientation may be extremely relevant in her killing. That’s why.

Hope that helps explain the usage. All that being said, the word “known” has been removed from the online version.

Filed under: Public Safety, , , , , ,

2008: Sandbaggers take initiative

More memories from the flood:

My mother and I, along with some friends responded to the call. We initially head to Edgewood Road, to assist with the well, but were turned away. We were told to go to Mercy Hospital and got there as soon as we could. We parked on the Northern Side of the hospital and walked around to the intersection of 8th Avenue and 10th Street SE. We quickly realized that no one in particular was in charge, but instead, it was find someone who at least knew what to do. After a while, they said that they were moving to another location. My mother got on the back of a pickup and took off. I assumed that I would get on the next one, and go to the same location. It didn’t pan out that way. Instead she went down near the Qwest building and I ended up back on the Northern side of the hospital. We got a pile of sand there and began filling sandbags and sending them down an assembly line into the bottom of the hospital. At some point, people came out of the bottom of the hospital, and some others (including myself) went in. I remember standing in the bottom floors of the hospital in about 1/2 inch of water and getting handed sandbags and sending them down the line.

I think the part that sticks out to me, was how the community rose up against everything, to help save itself. Also, how we didn’t wait for anyone to tell us what to do. Instead, we learned from each other and then passed that on to the next person who needed it.

Mark Fuller
Cedar Rapids, IA

Filed under: Flood, , , , , ,

2008: The Sunday after, strike teams in Time Check

7 a.m., Sun., June 15 —- The Iowa River crested at 31.5 feet in Iowa City that day, and UI President Sally Mason announced the Hancher Auditorium was likely flooded up to the concert stage.

Strike teams assembled in Cedar Rapids, where the water was already back down to 25 feet, to go through the flooded neighborhoods and determine which homes were safe to return to, which were not.

Cedar Rapids firefighter Corey Archer was assigned to the Time Check neighborhood. “They called it Alpha sector,” he said.

The sun shone through the shade of the trees onto a neighborhood that was heavy with dampness and smeared with muck.

Hustling house to house, breaking through doors into wrecked living rooms and kitchens, it struck Archer as ironic that the only things inhabiting the streets were the occasional cat – and thousands of dead nightcrawlers.

“Those were beautiful summer days, and nobody’s around,” Archer said.

He saw boats wedged onto front porches, Yardy carts hanging on stop signs, garages relocated down streets.

“We would literally find logs three feet in diameter shoved in windows,” he said.

What he’ll never forget, what all of Cedar Rapids may not forget for decades, was the smell. The smell of dead worms, broken refrigerators, wet pet food and especially the who-knows-what of the muck that cooked on the ground as a warm spell followed the previous week’s torrential rain into Eastern Iowa.

Many of those on the strike teams simply threw away their clothes afterward.

Archer said one scene caused him and his colleagues to stop and watch. It was a pile of fish, some living, some dead, fighting for water in a small pool above a storm drain partially blocked by a sheet of plywood.

Three days before, the water had been ten feet deep. Now it was a diminishing puddle at the end of J Avenue NW. Bigger fish were jockeying for space and smaller fish were piled up dead around the perimeter.

“All these fish are in there, swimming and fighting and rotting,” he said.

Eventually someone pulled up the plywood, and the remaining water and fish dropped into the storm drain.
The survivors, Archer assumes, swam back to the river.

Filed under: Flood, , , , ,

2008: I Am Legend on Sixth Street

I’ll be posting people’s memories of the flood over the next couple weeks. If you remember specific scenes or feelings from the flood, e-mail me:

Memories of that Thursday are somewhat sketchy. In my mind, all 3 days really blend together. Memories of the news coverage, sights of the orange cones that kept moving out over the course of the day, Bruce Aune loosening his tie, Ashley Hinson admitting to her lack of shower by putting her hair up in a headband. Driving through flooded neighborhoods is an everyday thing. We see the aftermath. It’s EVERY DAY! What’s not are the little memories such as those that I mentioned. I remember timing my sump pump just right so that we could actually flush the toilet. I remember taking my wife and daughter over the river for the first time just so they could see the reality of the events with their own eyes rather than through the lens of a camera. I remember the 1st Ave. Dairy Queen sign and the small drive through sign below that showed the true severity of the situation.

One of my most vivid memories, though, is that Wednesday. I was on my way down 6th SW street toward first avenue. During lunch that day, I had been to the venue that my youth outreach group (Central Corridor Gamers) calls home, Trinity United Methodist Church. There was an army of people moving things from the basement of the fellowship hall to the upper level. I really had no idea why they were making such drastic moves. We figured a little water on the carpet. I decided to come back again after work to move some of the stuff that our group uses during our regular meetings (which were supposed to happen that evening). All along 6th street, people who had just evacuated their homes were strolling. It was just like a scene from War of the Worlds, or I Am Legend. People lining both sides of the street with pet carriers, children in their arms, depressed and concerned looks on their faces, all moving in the same direction—away from the water. This was the first time that reality set into my mind. It was clear that CCG would not be meeting that night. It was clear that things were bad.

I hope you don’t mind me side-stepping the “I-380 that Thursday” instruction. I was just thinking about my memories this weekend with some family and these were the things that came to my mind.

Dan Alpers
Founder and President
Central Corridor Gamers

Filed under: Flood, , , , ,

Accident reports e-mails and TV

I’ve gotten a couple e-mails about the accident reports story today.

Here’s one:

This just happened (about 2 weeks ago) to me where the officer didn’t file a police report. Officer Boyer. It was only minor damage but the driver drove off from the scene and I followed him as I called 911. This guy that hit me told his insurance company that he never hit me. His P.O.S. car didn’t have a lot of damage. The investigation clearly showed paint from my car on his and his paint on mine. The person that hit me didn’t get a ticket for leaving the scene of an accident. I filed the claim with the other guys insurance thinking they would cover it, the other guy told his insurance company that he never hit me. So at this point they denied my claim. TERRIBLE investigation!!! At this point I would like to file a complaint to the officers superior but I am afraid that it will fall upon deaf ears. Any suggestions??

And here’s another:

Read your article with interest today. There are many other things that police don’t currently record as reports – I called for help one day because I saw a man threatening a woman in a car and then he followed me when he saw me calling for help. It never showed in the police log because “if we don’t have an officer available, we don’t log it” and he eventually turned off. The man was very threatening and shouting at me, and I was scared to death and relayed his license plate number, but it did no good.

We also had an incident where I filed a report on some criminal mischief – our lawn was killed using bleach and our driveway was smeared with paint. The investigators would never investigate and failed to return many phone calls. We had a pile of evidence – facebook entries and kids statements – saying who did it, and got no satisfaction.

I think it would be very interesting for you to investigate and do a story on what percent of police reports are actually investigated. I know our police are overworked, and I think they’re trying to do the right thing, but I think they get caught in how they’ve always done things and don’t use data to make decisions.

Here’s the video:

Filed under: Cedar Rapids City Council, Public Safety, , , , , , ,

Evictions not easy, landlords say

Below is a story I’m working on. Any ideas? Jim Cannon, I know you’re out there!

Eleven years ago, one of Keith Smith’s tenants fell a couple months behind paying rent, and Smith prepared to evict the resident.

He hired a lawyer and took the case to small claims court. But a judge threw out the eviction because Smith filled out the paperwork incorrectly.

“It was the only case I’ve ever had thrown out, and it was a very expensive education,” said Smith, now the president of Landlords of Linn County.

Some 2,188 evictions were filed in Linn County in 2008, and another 710 in Johnson County. More than 60 percent resulted either in an eviction or the landlord dropping the eviction.

That left about 1,000 cases last year in the Corridor where the landlord and tenant duked it out in court. Landlords say these cases can be complicated and expensive.

A spring flurry of crime in some Cedar Rapids neighborhoods has pushed landlords into the spotlight, as neighborhood advocates and police ask them to take more responsibility for their properties.

In April, Terry Bilsland, president of the Wellington Heights Neighborhood Association, accused some landlords of being indifferent to the neighborhoods where they own property.

“As long as the check comes, they don’t care who lives there,” Bilsland said. “On some streets, it’s the same houses year after year.”

The city is considering a requirement that landlords obtain city licenses and follow certain rules to keep their registrations — such as including a crime-free addendum on the lease or running background checks when tenants apply.

Tenants can be evicted for not paying rent, violating their lease, or posing a “clear and present” public safety danger. Landlords must serve a specific notices for each type of eviction and explain specifically what the tenant can do to fix the problem.

A mistake — not notifying a tenant she has three days to pay unpaid rent, or attempting to charge late fees over $40 — will lead to the case being thrown out.

“The biggest roadblock is not knowing what to do,” Smith said.
Smith maintains a 25-page document detailing each step of the eviction process.

Even in cases where police decide the tenant poses a clear and present danger, an officer must attend the court proceeding to testify against the tenant. Because in American courts the accused has right to confront her accuser, a letter from the police isn’t adequate.

“You can’t cross-examine that piece of paper,” said Jim Kringlen, managing attorney for Iowa Legal Aid’s Cedar Rapids office.

Iowa Legal Aid, which offers free legal services to the poor, defends about one tenant in eviction proceedings per week, Kringlen said, and they win most of the cases they take. Eight attorneys work for Legal Aid at the Cedar Rapids office, so they only take cases they think can be won.

“There’re a lot of landlords out there that know how to manage their property, and we don’t see them very often,” Kringlen said. “There’s probably just a certain, small, subset of landlords that aren’t good at managing their property.”

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Fire hazards at Hampton Court, #3

The basement hallway leading to the exit is blocked with shelves and other stuff. Several (perhaps all) the building’s smoke detectors don’t work.

The Hampton Courts are at 1261 and 1263 First Ave. SE, and fire protection isn’t the only problem.

Police were called to the two buildings 279 times in 2008.

One of the basement apartments in 1263 is unlocked and the floor is scattered with debris, with holes in the ceiling inside and outside above the door. The basement ceiling is spotted with holes.

Mold is growing in one of the apartments looking out on First Avenue and paint is peeling off the wall and piling up on the floor.

“These apartments are f—ed up,” said Timothy Van Ostran, who lives upstairs. “Every single one of them has something wrong with it.”

Van Ostran said it’s easy to rent there. No background checks.

“All you’ve got to do is come with the rent,” he said. “You don’t even need a deposit.”

I ran into the building manager, who lives there. He wanted to know who I was. I told him. I asked his name. He said his name was “Johnny.”

Later, we walked outside, where he called the higher-ups at Preferred Property Management, and then said: “Officially, I’m supposed to give no comment, and ask you to leave.”

Preferred Property Management runs the property, which is owned by James D. Houghton, who I called again this afternoon, but couldn’t reach.

Filed under: Public Safety, , , , ,

Alternate map

Jeremy Cobert (of CR Tea Party fame) was kind enough to whip up another map based on the data I used to build the current map of hot Cedar Rapids properties.

Filed under: Public Safety, , , , ,

Hot Property #1: 1410 Bever Ave. SE

1410 Bever Ave. SE

1410 Bever Ave. SE

This is the address that got 71 police calls in 2008.

It’s a white two-story house owned by Vinnie Huskey Properties LLC, a company incorporated under Kevin Bachus, with a home office in Solon.

The home is right next to the Rose Apartments and it’s supposed to be empty. The city’s housing code enforcement office has posted a big yellow placard on the front door that says the place is “unsafe” and “unsanitary” and should not be lived in. The date of the notice is Feb. 27, 2009.

So imagine my surprise when I’m standing on the front porch, writing this down, and I hear somebody coughing inside. (Sorry. I didn’t knock.) All the windows are blocked with blankets, so you can’t see anything inside, but the place is run-down and the yard is mostly bare dirt.

The street was empty, pretty much, except for an old guy with a big beard sitting on his porch a few houses down on the opposite side of the street. He pointed out that several homes on Bever Avenue there are empty.

A man was stabbed in the chest at 1410 Bever Ave. SE in early February. It was the site of a shootout in May 2006, and the site of various assaults and other problems over the years.

Check out the Top 100 map here. When I profile a property, I’m going to mark it red on the map to and link back to my blog. Zoom in to your neighborhood and check it out.

Also, leave a comment. I’m going to try to talk to as many owners and tenants as I can.

Update: Police checked this house this afternoon and didn’t find anything, after a neighbor called in that somebody might be in there. Police said that while nobody was in there, somebody could well have been earlier. I’ve called Mr. Bachus and left a message, but haven’t gotten a call back.

Filed under: Uncategorized, , , , , , , ,

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