Ironton Police cracking down on cruising

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 19, 2004

Jonathan Rach of Lousia, Ky., came to downtown Ironton Friday night to "run around a little bit."

The 22-year-old Rach went home with a $115 ticket for allowing his vehicle to stand in traffic at the intersection of Second and Washington streets. He was one of several people whose time in the cruise line Friday night earned them a citation.

City leaders are trying to crack down on an age-old pastime that some say is harmless youthful fun, but others say is damaging to the downtown and the people who work and live there.

Email newsletter signup

Cracking down on cruisers

A week ago, Ironton Mayor John Elam approved the assignment of one police officer to patrol the cruise strip on Friday and Saturday nights. The action came after numerous complaints about cruising on Third Street, and

littering, excessive noise, loitering on business parking lots and criminal activity that are attributed to people cruising. Ironton police said they have not only seen it all, they have had to deal with it all.

"We've gotten kids with guns, knives," Ironton Police Detective Jim Akers said. "We've had fights before, drugs…"

Earlier this month a 17-year-old male was assaulted by a 27-year-old man in the cruise line.

"We have, probably once a week, a call on a firearm or some kind of weapon in the cruise line," Ironton Police Sgt. Joe Ross said. "We have a lot of domestics. We've had reports of cars being shot at, people hit with beer bottles."

Ross estimates that some nights as many as 500 young people - not just teenagers

- converge on Third Street between Center and Monroe streets.

Akers not only spent his Friday night writing citations for motor vehicle violations, he also made the rounds of local parking lots, clearing away the packs of cars that congregated on them. While some youth seemed to be surprised that they were being moved along, others were not.

As Akers pulled his squad car alongside their vehicles, the cruisers would pile back inside and get going with almost predictable speed.

"They see you coming and they get in their cars and leave," Akers said.

The cost of getting caught breaking the law can be painful. Even though it is a misdemeanor, criminal trespass can result in a 30-day jail stay and a $300 fine. A disorderly conduct or an open container citation can cost the recipient $175, as can citations for alcohol consumption in motor vehicles.

The complaints

For business owners and people who live on or near the cruising route, weekends are not savored, they are nearly dreaded.

"It has a very negative effect," said Tim Gearheart, owner of Tim's News and Novelties. "With cruising and related activities, a person my age would be afraid to be in downtown Ironton after 6 o'clock."

Gearheart said a couple of weeks ago, an elderly friend of his was walking in the vicinity of the Social Security Office one evening when a couple of youth approached him and demanded money. When the man refused, they assaulted him.

Gearheart said it is commonplace for him to arrive at the store in the morning and find leftover soft drink cups and even beer bottles on the doorstep.

Joe Unger, owner of Unger Shoes, said he frequently finds trash in the alley behind his store and, more often than not, the trash is alcohol-related.

Unger recently installed an enclosure to keep people from getting directly behind his store and using the area as a restroom. Some area merchants have complained of finding used condoms in the alley behind their stores.

Residents who live in the area of the cruise line complain particularly about the honking horns, the cars that are equipped with loud mufflers and features that squeal and make loud noises.

As Jennifer Barton stood outside the Park Avenue Apartments Friday night, waiting for an ambulance, she watched the procession of vehicles pass and sighed. Her mother, who lives in that apartment building, had fallen ill and Barton was worried the ambulance would not be able to make its way through the line of cars to reach her mother.

"It's sad because there is nothing for the kids to do," Barton said. "I've got a teen who is probably in the cruise line. But the people who live here can't sleep until 3 or 4 in the morning because of all the loud things on cars and trucks, the honking and screaming. I know kids don't have anywhere to go, but it's unreal how you can hear this from (inside the apartment building)."

While some Lawrence Countians disapprove of the cruise line, others are more sympathetic. Matt Fry, of Forrest, Miss., formerly of Lawrence County, said he thinks cruising is preferable to other activities in which young people could be involved.

"I'd rather have them here than on some country road," he said. "There are cops, there are other people. It's a better environment than trying to sneak in a bar."

His friend, William McCormick, was not so sure. He said last week while he sat eating dinner at Toro Loco, McCormick saw a bunch of teenagers passing around a marijuana cigarette. Also that evening, he said he saw some young girls riding in the back of a pick-up truck lifting their tops in exchange for Mardi-Gras style beads.

Why they come

Cruiser Rach chose not to comment about his citation. If Rach was looking for other Kentuckians in the cruise line, he was in luck. Four of 10 cars that passed the corner of Park Avenue and Third Street in a minute's time had Bluegrass State tags. One car carried Montgomery County, Ky. tags, some 100 miles from Ironton. Although it is not known if the people in that car were in fact cruisers or people simply caught in the cruise line, it would not surprise Sgt. Ross if they had come to town to join the nightly parade.

"I wrote a ticket for someone who was from somewhere in Kentucky who lives an hour-and-a-half

away," Ross said. "They come from Minford, Waverly …"

Of the five people who received citations from Akers between 9:30

and 11 p.m. Friday, only two were from Lawrence County. Two were from Kentucky and a juvenile male was from Portsmouth.

For Jeremy Boyle, 19, of Ironton, cruising is what he has always done and it is what all of his friends do. On Friday night he was with three friends.

"I come down here to have fun," Boyle said.

He contended that he is guilty only of loitering, not the littering that is commonly associated with cruising, and said he and his friends often pick up the trash that others leave behind.

Boyle said if he didn't cruise, he doesn't know what he would do for fun on the weekends.

When asked if his $115 ticket for standing in traffic would deter him from cruising in the future, he replied in the negative.

"I'll be back, but I won't be standing in traffic," he said.

A few minutes later when Akers passed Boyle again, Boyle quickly pointed out he was catching a ride with friends.

"See, I'm not standing," Boyle yelled to Akers. "I'm getting in a car."

Some of the cruisers contended that while a fraction of the people who show up in the cruise line are looking for trouble, most just want to spend time with their friends. Kayla Bradford, 18, of Greenup, Ky., said she has been coming every week for the last two years, just to see and be seen. Her friend, Darren Smith, 25, of Worthington, Ky., said he's been coming since he was in high school.

"It's just something we do," Smith said. "We talk to people, we drive around. The majority of us don't tear things up. Only a small percentage do. I don't come to drink."

Asked what they would do if they did not cruise in Ironton, some of the people who were in Smith's and Bradford's group said they would stay home bored or go to a bar.

A quieter downtown

Eight months ago, city leaders in Portsmouth decided to do something about cruising on that city's major artery, Chillicothe Street. As in Ironton, Portsmouth police heard the usual litany of complaints about cruise line behavior: fighting, heavy traffic at a standstill, drinking, littering and drug use. And similarly, Portsmouth residents had battled their cruise line for decades.

Portsmouth Police Capt. David Thoroughman said police in his city made it known they were working on getting anti-cruising laws passed. City leaders also lifted a restriction against parking in the area.

The old ordinance, passed in 1988, prohibited parking in any municipal lot or stopping or letting a motor vehicle stand on Chillicothe Street between Second and Seventh streets between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. People are now allowed to stop on municipal lots as long as they do not create a disturbance. The change was made eight months ago and now Thoroughman said cruising is less of a problem than it used to be.

That is what some local leaders said they want to see happen in Ironton - cars full of people who shop, eat or seek more traditional entertainment in Ironton, and then go home afterward.

Gearheart said he is hopeful that the police crackdown will force cruisers to look elsewhere for their nightly entertainment.

"Maybe when people get fined for doing what they do, maybe then and only then will they decide this is not a good place to be."