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Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette
A bar fight that turned violent is blamed for a car crash that killed a 17-year-old driver a week ago.
editorial

Random tragedy calls for vigilance

Nellum

Haley M. Nellum, a happy, teenager beloved by her family and friends, a sophomore at Bishop Dwenger High School who played on its basketball team, loved to dance and take photos, and spent time serving her community, will be buried today.

That such a person would become a wholly collateral victim of what began as an argument and shooting incident outside a bar might seem most unlikely. She was definitely in the wrong place at the wrong time. But if a 17-year-old driving her car at Stellhorn and Hobson roads is in the wrong place, she is a grim reminder that we all are at risk.

The fight and shooting that led to Nellum’s death in a car accident a few minutes later was violence of a kind that hasn’t gotten much attention lately: the truly random kind.

According to charging documents, 35-year-old Jeremy D. Washington was in the Corner Pocket Pub near St. Joe and St. Joe Center roads when he and two friends got into an argument with three others. They were asked to leave the bar. But the altercation continued in the parking lot and led to Washington pulling out a .45-caliber handgun and shooting one of the men, authorities say.

Racing away from the scene, it’s alleged, Washington ran a red light and plowed into Nellum’s car. A blood-alcohol test showed Washington’s blood-alcohol level at nearly double the legal limit.

Capt. Kevin Hunter, who heads the city’s Gang and Violence Task Force, said none of those involved in the shooting the night of March 28 are known to be gang members. (The very next night, in the same neighborhood, the Gang and Violent Crime Task Force investigated an altercation at the Peanuts bar in which a man was hospitalized with gunshot wounds.)

The Corner Pub, a pleasant place for a sandwich or a friendly game of pool, is hardly the only local establishment where drinking has led to violence, and nothing suggests that anything but bad choices by the protagonists involved bear responsibility for this tragedy.

But it’s a good moment to remind those who operate bars that they need to do what they can to keep things civil and safe both inside and outside their establishments. Don’t overserve patrons. Keep an eye out for trouble. And worry about what happens in the parking lot.

Law-enforcement leaders want to see owners and managers take a little more responsibility for what goes on inside and outside their establishments.

“I’d like to see them step up their game a little bit,” Fort Wayne Police Chief Garry Hamilton, speaking about bars in general, said this week. “If they think there’s a problem, give us a call.”

If they can’t control their patrons, they should expect that police will step in, even if that’s perceived as bad for business.

“One of the owners (of a local bar) got upset that we were there in the parking lot, trying to do police work,” he said.

Perhaps the best way to honor young Haley Nellums would be for everyone to become a little more aware of how dangerous it is to drink and carry a gun, or to drink and drive, or, God forbid, to do both.

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