How much are beer and wine sales contributing to crime in and around the Sunoco gas station at 2436 Broadway in Lorain?
That was the subject of an Ohio Division of Liquor Control hearing in Elyria on Tuesday. City Council members in August recommended the division revoke the station’s liquor permit, saying liquor sales contribute to violence at the station.
Station manager Ameed Abuzahrieh said Tuesday that many incidents occur after sales end at 1 a.m. A decision from the state is expected in a few weeks, according to James Bally, a division hearing officer.
Among those testifying to Bally was police Sgt. Michael Failing, the department’s crime analysis/intelligence officer. Failing said there were 49 calls to the station in 2013 and 14 this year through Sunday. Failing said four calls since January 2013 were for serious incidents.
The most serious was the Jan. 1, 2013, death of Herman Seagers, a bystander caught in the crossfire of a shooting when the station was named Liberty Gas. Shooter Desmen Noble is serving 18 years to life for the killing.
The most-serious incident this year was a March 11 fight when shots were fired in the parking lot about 2:30 a.m. and two men were beaten. Two men were charged in that incident.
Failing said Abuzahrieh “sells food and creates an atmosphere that brings people drunk from the bars to his establishment.” Failing said large crowds gather at the station, leading to violence like the homicide.
“It’s become a gathering place,” he said.
However, under questioning from Abuzahrieh’s attorney Kent Minshall Jr., Failing admitted that the homicide, which occurred about 3:25 a.m., had nothing to do with the liquor permit.
Failing said the “major issue” for seeking permit revocation is that station has been twice fined for selling alcohol to minors during police undercover stings. A third case was dropped.
Abuzahrieh — the station is owned by his wife, Waheeba Abuzahrieh — said he immediately fired the clerks who sold to minors. He said he plans to install driver’s license scanners to prevent use of fake identifications.
Abuzahrieh said he has tried to be responsible. He said he promptly provided police with surveillance video that led to the quick arrests of Noble and Damien Bell, who is serving four years for his role in the Seagers killing. Abuzahrieh said he began hiring off-duty police last year to work overnight Thursday through Saturday for $180 per night.
“Nobody forced me to have the police officers,” he said. “I hired them because I felt it’s more security for my workers and the people”
Since the hirings in June 2013, calls to the station decreased. The 49 calls in 2013 were down from 108 in 2012, a drop of about 54 percent.
While Failing and Detective Orlando Colon said the off-duty officers are sometimes overwhelmed by the crowds, the officers disagreed. In a Feb. 19 letter submitted to Bally Tuesday, officers Orlando Cruz, Bill Lachner, Shawn Petty and Efrain Torres said their presence has “eliminated bad behavior” by rowdy people who frequent the station after bars close.
“People who now come to the Sunoco thank us on a regular basis for our presence,” the officers wrote. “A continued police presence will help insure that Sunoco is a safe and community-friendly store.”
The station is in District 3 of the department’s five-district coverage area. At 16,366, the district had the second-most calls for service in 2013, according to police. Minshall said the station doesn’t operate in a vacuum and some crime will occur in the area, but it isn’t due to the permit.
“Having a business that is open and lit and has police officers and video and a cooperative manager available to the community, in fact, makes a contribution to the community,” he said. “I can only wonder what the effect on the area would be if this was a vacant building with a parking lot with no one monitoring it.”
Abuzarhrieh said after the hearing that alcohol sales are a big part of station profits and losing the permit may cause it to close. Abuzarhrieh, who said he employs six full-time workers and four part-timers, said he has to keep the store open 24 hours.
Abuzarhrieh said it would quickly be burglarized if it closed.
“I can’t afford to keep insurance if that happens,” he said.