Tag Archive | "Pelham Parkway Houses"

Pelham Residents Take Security into Their Own Hands

Residents of the Pelham Parkway Houses participate in a candlelight vigil and crime-prevention event. (MARGARET BADORE / The Bronx Ink)

In August, Adrian Garcia, 25, was shot and killed in the Pelham Parkway Houses in the Bronx. Two months earlier,  88-year old Evelyn Shapiro was bludgeoned to death inside her apartment in the public housing project, which was until recently relatively peaceful.

Both cases are still unsolved, leaving some residents fearful and others angry enough to act.

“Every week this summer there’s been some type of violence in my development,” said Herma Williams, who was Shapiro’s neighbor for many years.

Williams is in the process of organizing a residents’ watch for the 23-building complex that houses 2,500 people. She does not want to wait for the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) to install security cameras it has promised for next year. “I don’t need to wait for somebody else to come in and say, ‘This is what you need to do in your community,’ ” said Williams, who has served as the project’s tenant president for 19 years.

The number of violent crimes at Pelham Parkway Houses and its surrounding neighborhood are up in 2012 according to data for the 49th precinct. Seven murders were recorded in the precinct so far this year, up from three in 2011. Armed assaults are up 13.3 percent from the previous year.

Longtime residents described growing up in the Pelham Parkway Houses when it was possible for kids to sit on the benches in the center of the complex’s buildings talking with friends until 1 or 2 a.m.  “Now, I wouldn’t sit there at 1 o’clock in the afternoon,” Cathy Kiler, 50, said.

Yvonne Lewis, who has lived in the Pelham Parkway Houses for 18 years, said the violence made her consider moving, but adds that she thinks a residents’ patrol could make a difference. “I would even participate sometimes,” she said. “I think that would help.”

The residents’ watch would be a volunteer effort to encourage neighbors to look out for one another. NYCHA offers resources to facilitate the volunteer resident watch program. “They do outreach, they do recruitment and they provide the training,” explained Williams.

Housing authority regulations require that able-bodied residents do eight hours a month of community service. Participating in the watch could be one way to fulfill that requirement. Once a coordinator is hired and details finalized, residents would likely be asked sit in their lobbies of buildings, stroll through their halls and report suspicious activity to the 49th precinct.

Since the first murder in June, police patrols have increased around the housing development, but Williams hopes that residents who work as corrections officers, school safety officers and security guards will volunteer. “We look to them as professionals in law-enforcement.”

On Friday, September 7, the residents council organized a candlelight vigil for the victims and served as a prelude to the watch program. A group of residents, uniformed police officers, and supporters from the surrounding neighborhood gathered at the location of Garcia’s death to send a message that crime will not be ignored. “It impacts the good members of the community and the not so good members of the community,” said Police Captain Andy Johnson.

Inspired by the Occupy the Street Corners anti-violence movement that originated in Harlem, the group of about 30 adults and 15 children made a circuit around the housing project. “Take back your community!” shouted Williams, addressing residents still inside with a megaphone. “What you see tonight is just the beginning.”

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In Bronx Blaze, Disaster Averted by Seconds

Jacob Sowell, a Pelham Parkway Houses resident, used this safety harness to aid neighbors, who were leaning out of their windows during an apartment fire.

Jacob Sowell, a resident of Pelham Parkway Houses, used this safety harness to aid neighbors, who were leaning out of their windows during an apartment fire. Photo by Sam Fellman.

Jacob Sowell’s nap was rudely interrupted on Monday afternoon by the scene outside his sixth-floor apartment window. He was shocked by what he saw — smoke and a baby dangling out of the window.

“It was almost like a dream – a bad dream,” the 66-year-old Sowell said.

What he saw was Vanessa Scott, 18, holding her 7-month-old cousin, Zaniwah Alexander, out of the window of her fifth-floor apartment that was engulfed in smoke. She was trying to keep the baby from suffocating, she later told the Daily News.

Sowell heard Scott scream, “the fire’s up on me.” Meanwhile, voices from the crowd below cried, “don’t drop the baby!”

From Sowell’s window, he could see that she was loosing her grip.

Just after 2 p.m. at 795 Pelham Parkway North, a fire broke out in a fifth-floor apartment. Ignited in a closet by the front door, the flames soon spread through the crowded apartment, sealing people in a thick curtain of flame and smoke. Tenants raced to the windows for air.

In the apartment directly above, Sowell called 911 and then, with his 20-year-old son Jacob, rushed to the window in his son’s bedroom. Below them, a man and a woman were leaning out the window, gasping for air. “How can I help?” Sowell wondered.

Sowell, a construction worker, seized his safety harness and then broke the bedroom window. He clipped the harness to a pipe nearby and handed the makeshift tether to the man below, who grabbed it and was able to lean farther out.

Within minutes, fire trucks arrived. The firefighters extended a portable ladder and set it against the seven-story building. One climbed up and carried the baby down to safety, then began to evacuate the other people.

The rescue did not come in time for Michel Alexandra to avoid injury. He had been hanging from a rope out of the apartment when the firefighters arrived. Then he lost his grip, falling four stories and striking the building’s awning before hitting the ground. He was evacuated to Jacobi Medical Center, where he is in fair condition, hospital officials said.

Firefighters rescued eight tenants, who were also brought to Jacobi with minor injuries. They have since been released. In addition, three firefighters were treated for minor injuries.

A day later, many residents of Pelham Parkway Houses were still shaken up.

Betty Diaz, 51, whose apartment is on the same floor as the fire, fled the building when she heard the screaming of her neighbors. By the time she snatched Kiuruba, her Yorkshire terrier, and left her apartment, the choking, black smoke filled the hallway.

“I can’t see, I can’t even breathe,” Diaz recalled.

Diaz, who has lived in the building for 36 years, said this was the first fire.

The cause of the fire was children playing with matches, Fire Department officials said.

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