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Widow calls for end to violence in Columbus neighborhood

Nichelle Lambert said her husband was tired of the loud music coming from the home across the street. However, a confrontation one February evening quickly became violent and caused his death. (WSYX/WTTE)

Over the last five years, there have been nearly 40 homicides within a mile of an east Columbus street and neighbors want something done about it.

ABC 6 On Your Side/FOX 28 Investigates looked at years of Columbus Police Department records related to neighborhood crime and acts of violence surrounding Lilley Avenue and the Driving Park community.

For more than a decade, it has been considered unsafe, but community groups and police are pushing forward new efforts to make the neighborhood safer.

Reflecting on the memories of her husband, Nichelle Lambert said Lonnie Lambert was tired of the loud music coming from the home across the street. However, a confrontation one February evening quickly became violent and caused his death.

“I couldn’t have found a better man and he left here too soon,” Lambert said. “I was numb. I couldn’t believe it was happening.”

Lonnie’s murder marked the 40th homicide in the Driving Park neighborhood in just over five years. Police said the suspect Randy Hunter Jr. took off and fled the state. U.S. Marshals received a tip and captured him two months later in Alabama in April, just 24 hours after ABC 6/FOX 28 spoke with Lambert’s widow.

“He took my husband. He took my best friend. He took my family,” Lambert said. “We had to totally charge our lives.”

Hunter is now charged with Lonnie’s murder and just appeared in Franklin County Common Pleas Court Tuesday.

“I never, ever want to step foot on Lilley,” Lambert said.

Columbus Police said the gangs are the main source of the large problems and witnesses to crimes fear retaliation for providing detectives information.

“When we have an incident that occurs down there, we don’t have very many witnesses who will help us or are willing to help us solve the crime,” Commander Robert Strausbaugh said. “It’s a sad state of affairs when you have a street where neighbors don’t know neighbors, and the long term residents who purchased their homes 25 or 30 years ago are kind of stuck there.”

ABC 6 On Your Side/FOX 28 Investigates looked at Columbus Police crime reports and isolated Lilley Avenue, then plotted a one mile circle around the main intersection and found crime numbers over the past five years.

Since 2012, reports show more than 630 robberies, 290 cases of aggravated assault and roughly 40 homicides.

“When I heard that one there, I just kind of hung my head and thought, ‘God, what else can I do to do something that makes an impact?’ And it’s difficult.”

Strausbaugh said he has pushed for more crime cameras and extra enforcement. The city has added bike patrols, police cars and safety teams.

The police commander in charge of that area believes the difficulty starts when neighbors aren’t communicating and looking out for one another. However, small community groups are trying to change that.

“If we see you as a nuisance, we’re going to try to shut you down,” Mustafaa Shabazz with the Livingston Avenue Business Association said. “We see a Short North. We see a German Village. We see an Italian Village.”

Shabazz said the area along Livingston Avenue is already undergoing a revitalization from the new public library, to brand new low-income homes being built and other places like the recreation center with efforts to educate teens and keep them out of trouble.

“You shouldn’t have to feel like a prisoner in your own home,” Lambert said.

Nichelle and her family have since moved away and she said while she feels safer now, there’s something missing.

“I just miss him,” Lambert said. “Lonnie was my supporter. He was my number one supporter and when I was sick, he just always called me beautiful.”

Lonnie was going to school and wanted to become a drug counselor to help those in need in the neighborhood. He also spent many days taking care of his wife, who’s still battling stage four cancer.

His life was cut short on a street and in a neighborhood that many hope and pray has better days ahead.

“There’s more options than killing. There’s more options than violence. There’s another way,” one neighbor said. “There’s peace.”

Nichelle hopes by sharing her story, city leaders, community groups and neighbors will collaborate to make it safer for all.

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