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LIVING IN FEAR: In wake of shooting, grief and questions in Candlelight Oaks
The entrance to the Candlelight Oaks neighborhood in DeLand's Spring Hill area, off of West Beresford Road.
BEACON PHOTOS/A. JANELL WILLIAMS
Fast response — Officers of the DeLand Police Department respond to a domestic-dispute call made in early January in Candlelight Oaks. At least six cruisers responded to the call; at least one of them had already been patrolling the subdivision.
Watching his neighborhood change — Joe Lewis sits on his front porch watching motorbikes and cars speed around a curve in the road directly across the street from a child-filled park owned and maintained by the City of DeLand. Lewis has lived in Candlelight Oaks for more than 20 years, and has noted an increase in crime and violence. He talked about the Nov. 26 shooting that left two men — including a bystander — dead and one injured. “I think it was a real tragedy; a senseless act. Ain’t no tellin’ when it’s gonna stop,” said Lewis. “We need some more police out here.”
The DeLand Police Department provided detailed records of activity in the Candlelight Oaks neighborhood.
This table includes all documented incidents and calls for service provided by the DPD.
This table includes just a small selection of types of incidents on the DeLand Police Department’s document, focusing on the most frequent incidents and incidents that could be considered “violent crime.”
On Nov. 26, two men were shot dead at a party in Candlelight Oaks. But even before that happened, neighbors say, Candlelight Oaks residents have been living in fear ... of crime, out-of-control traffic and wild street parties. The city and a group of clergy are trying to help.
Saying she must “pray constantly” for her safety, a DeLand resident was one of several who recently appealed to the City Commission for protection from criminals, reckless drivers and massive block parties that have plagued their Candlelight Oaks neighborhood.
“I have to pray constantly. Walk around my house and pray,” the woman said. “I’m scared in my own neighborhood.”
The neighbors first appealed to city commissioners in late October. In December, they were back, after a Nov. 26 shooting at one of the block parties left two men dead and another man injured.
“I’m gonna speak my mind ’cause I’m tired,” the resident told the City Commission.
“It’s sort of scary-like; I’ve seen people walking the streets with guns on, bulletproof vests. … It’s a lot of drugs out here,” another neighbor told The Beacon.
The Beacon agreed not to identify the residents who spoke to us, or spoke to the City Commission. The neighbors said they are afraid of retaliation.
There has been no arrest in the Nov. 26 shooting. That same fear of retaliation may be a factor.
Although the fatal block party was attended by an estimated 100 people, the DeLand Police Department says it has struggled to get witnesses to the shooting to come forward.
“Detectives have said a lot of people present were uncooperative,” City of DeLand spokesman Chris Graham said.
“If we have no one who is talking to us, we are working in a vacuum,” Deputy Chief Randy Henderson said. “You can’t do your job in a vacuum.”
The Police Department says solving the problems in Candlelight Oaks will require a cooperative effort that involves the neighbors, police, and other city departments.
“The police aren’t going to be able to solve this problem,” Lt. Chris Jacques said at the City Commission meeting. “The people of the community are going to solve this problem.”
But the residents feel helpless.
One resident who witnessed the shooting described the horror of watching a man die not far from her front door.
“You got people standing there staring in this man’s face while he’s dying, and [they] stand there and shoot him again?” she said, adding, “If the police can’t do nothing about it, how can we do anything about it?”
Statistics from the DeLand Police Department show crime is on the rise, while police patrols are less frequent in Candlelight Oaks.
Since 2013, calls for service — phone calls from residents seeking police assistance — have risen 58 percent through 2016. Incidents in the neighborhood — any time action is taken by the Police Department and a report is filed — have increased 56 percent.
At the same time, the statistics show fewer extra patrols are being conducted in the neighborhood. “Extra patrols” are when officers cruise a specific area when they have extra time during their shifts. According to Deputy Chief Henderson, these patrols take place where crime spikes are observed.
In Candlelight Oaks, however, where crime is up, extra patrols were down from 325 in 2013 to 160 last year.
“This wouldn’t be happening in another neighborhood,” a Candlelight Oaks resident told The Beacon. “I’m sorry; it’s racial. That’s some of it. They just don’t care about us.”
Henderson challenged the claim that his department isn’t doing enough to keep Candlelight Oaks safe.
“We haven’t ignored Candlelight Oaks; that is never the case,” he said. “But how do you stop a shooting? How do you stop domestic violence? … We go into a neighborhood and try to be as preventative as we can.”
The drop in extra patrols isn’t necessarily a key factor, he said.
“Please know that patrol itself doesn’t necessarily deter someone’s planned action or spontaneous criminal act,” Henderson said. “Extra patrols have their place in the correct situation, but they shouldn’t be a measure to decide why a neighborhood is experiencing deviance or discomfort while others are not.”
Neighbors are noting an increase in police presence since the Nov. 26 tragedy.
“Now all of the sudden they’re around after the shooting,” one resident said.
“It’s [crime] slowed down since there have been more police,” said another.
Residents have been bringing their concerns to the city since April, according to Assistant City Manager Mike Grebosz.
After residents made several appeals for help, the city and its Police Department have united with a group of pastors called the Concerned Clergy Coalition to become more active in Candlelight Oaks.
The clergy are planning a door-to-door survey of the residents. Member Demetris Pressley is hoping the pastors will be more successful than police officers in encouraging residents to speak out.
“It may be a more acceptable way to talk to folks,” said Pressley, who is also director of Public Works for the City of DeLand. “The role the Police Department plays is important. … if we work together, we can make this community a safer place to live.”
The Police Department is trying to better communicate with residents.
“A strategy is being formed that will provide the affected residents opportunities to make connections with the police, and vice versa,” Deputy Chief Henderson said.
“We’re talking about maybe hosting a few sessions at the Police Department, like a forum,” Assistant City Manager Grebosz added.
“My heart goes out to the residents of Candlelight Oaks. This is not an easy issue to deal with,” said City Commissioner Jessica Davis. “Gun violence is very scary. And our No. 1 concern as the DeLand Commission is the safety of the residents of DeLand.”
“I hope we find a good solution down there. The residents deserve to have peace in their neighborhood,” said DeLand City Manager Michael Pleus. “I hope the residents will help us find that solution.”
- A. Janell Williams, firstname.lastname@example.org
Speeding among Candlight Oaks residents’ chief concerns
Residents of Candlelight Oaks cite traffic problems and careless motorists among their main concerns.
“There’s a whole lot of speeding going on,” said Louis Henry, sitting on a porch overlooking the park in the neighborhood's center.
“What if they hit one of these babies?” asked another resident, gesturing to children playing in the subdivision's streets.
“We have a lot of people coming into our area that don't live in our area,” said Charlita Williams, who has owned a home in the neighborhood for 30 years. “You don’t want to move out because you’ve been here so long, but cars are flying up and down the street.”
One resident, who has lived in the neighborhood since the early 1970s, remembers the days when children could play in the streets without concern.
“The parents could let them play all day long and nothing happened,” this resident said.
This year, however, one neighbor had his fence destroyed by speeding vehicles — twice.
Demetris Pressley, director of Public Works for DeLand as well as a member of the Concerned Clergy Coalition, said the city tried to deal with traffic problems in 2015 by installing speed bumps. But they helped little, Pressley said, and were removed in June 2016.
“We had our traffic engineer consultant to come out and do a study on the area,” Pressley said. “It’s our concern as well, and we’re working with our sign shop to engineer traffic markings to deter this behavior.”
— A. Janell Williams
On Nov. 26, a shooting in the Candlelight Oaks neighborhood in DeLand left two dead and one injured.
Clayton V. Lowery, 27, of Lake Helen, was pronounced dead at the scene. Victor Small, 41, and Sam Parker III, 28, were transported to Florida Hospital DeLand, where Small, a resident of Candlelight Oaks, later died. Parker is currently recovering at home from a gunshot wound in the leg.
The shooting occurred at a large block party of the variety that caused Candlelight Oaks residents to appear before the DeLand City Commission twice recently to plead for help.
According to the police report, the Nov. 26 double fatality began with a vehicular incident.
“Lowery’s Buick Regal was struck by another vehicle. Lowery got into an argument and gunfire was exchanged. Lowery was killed, and Small, who was standing in [his own] yard nearby, was struck in the crossfire,” City of DeLand spokesman Chris Graham said in an email sent soon after the incident.
Parker was attending the party and got caught in the crossfire, according to the police report.
The report estimated there were about 100 attendees at the party.