DETROIT - It's a question with seemingly 1,000 answers.
But last night, in a backyard alleyway at the corner of Margareta and Sorrento, residents witnessed the confluence of Detroit's sad and desperate decay in a most twisted and unusual way.
It started around 9:30 pm when flames licked up over Richard Abner's unattached garage. He grabbed the phone and called 911. The Detroit Fire Department was extremely busy with July 4th fireworks exploding all around. The dispatcher told him he would have to wait as there were no available engines.
At first he couldn't believe it but then remembered where he lives. He quickly put the phone down and grabbed his garage door opener to pull his car out. When he got there he realized it wasn't his garage burning. It was a trashcan propped up against his garage. It wasn't his trash can and he didn't know where it came from.
Abner's daughter Carmen lives with him along with her two young children and a teenager. She told Local Four "it was absolutely crazy last night." Her teenage son grabbed a fire extinguisher and put out the flames in the trash can. It was dark. No one could see after the fire went out because the street lights in the neighborhood haven't worked in years. A crowd gathered. Someone broke out a flashlight and another in the crowd ventured up close to the can only to find a human head and started screaming. Indeed it was a dead body inside the now melted trash can. The crowd stood and looked at this terrible murder scene for some 45 minutes in disbelief before a city official could get there. Richard Abner told Local Four News "The fire department came eventually and they said they didn't have a police car to send. They are supposed to be laying off 200 firefighters and police and your house is burning, your garage is burning" and it's a murder scene and there is no one to respond. He's angry and so are his neighbors. The Abners say it took another hour for the police to show up, still more time for homicide detectives to show up and confirm that indeed it was a body. It was apparently of an unidentified teenage boy, burned from the chest up. Much later the coroner's office arrived and took away the body.
As the police did their preliminary investigation they discovered tire tracks in the wet grass. This was after the thunderstorm had rolled through. They were tire tracks from the trash can. Detectives figured out, with some eyewitness help, that some young men were wheeling that trash can through the neighborhood looking for a place to leave it. They wheeled it effortlessly and without conscience down the middle of Margareta, up onto the sidewalk and into the alley behind Abner's home. There they apparently broke a gasoline can or a can of lighter fluid, covered the dead body and set it alight. There is gang scrawl, ["tagging" as it's known on the streets] on the garage. Abner has repeatedly painted it over.
It wasn't bad enough that the street lights are out, the fire department on July 4th too busy to show up for a fire, cops too few and too busy to get to a homicide with any speed, young men, possibly with gang connections, knowing no one is there to stop them wheel a dead body down a residential street with impunity! They set it on fire and easily flee into the darkness. Today, when Local Four News contacted the Detroit Police Department to find out how the investigation is going we were told it's stalled. Why? Because the coroner's office needs to determine the cause of death and hasn't done so yet. There is no information about the investigation to pass along. It could take the next day or several days to get the cause of death, and until then there is no expectation this ugly holiday murder will be investigated. This is what is wrong with Detroit and sadly, there are no quick or easy solutions to make it right. July 4th, in Detroit was a sad one indeed.
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