June 9, 2007
By TINA A. BROWN, Courant Staff Writer
For months, Jesus Hernandez and his neighbors had been rooting for the new neighbor they knew as "Eddie" to finish renovating the three-family house at 124 Park Terrace.
But Eddie's tug of war with the bad element in the Putnam Heights neighborhood was worse than they had ever experienced.
First, the neighbors say, someone got into his basement and stole the copper pipes he planned to use for new plumbing. Then, his tools - all but a hammer and a screw driver - were stolen. Eddie moved in anyway. Within the week, a neighbor saw Eddie's furniture being loaded into a U-Haul truck in broad daylight while he was away.
And about 1:30 a.m. Friday, yet another burglary at 124 Park Terrace became deadly. Threatened by a pair of intruders when he entered his house, Eddie grabbed a knife and fatally stabbed one of them in the chest, police said.
Police would not identify Eddie. But the dead man was identified as Miguel Cruz, a spokesman for the Office of the Chief State Medical Examiner said.
The death is classified a homicide.
Park Terrace is a neighborhood in transition. It at once exemplifies how rundown neighborhoods can be revitalized and how crime drives property owners out.
Many of the homeowners are professionals who work for the city or the state. Some bought new row houses or older, renovated duplexes at reduced mortgage rates several years ago after they agreed to live there for seven years. Their houses stand side by side with older homes like Eddie's that are still in disrepair.
Yet persistent crime and vandalism have some homeowners eager to leave.
One resident - an accountant who asked that his name not be published - said he heard Eddie outside early Friday morning yelling his name and ringing his doorbell.
"He was screaming. `Call 911. Call 911. I got one [intruder], and one is still in the house,'" he said.
The accountant called for help, and when he got outside, the police were putting Eddie into a police car. "I had to tell them that he was the homeowner. He asked me to call the police," he said.
The intruder was on the ground in the front yard, and the accountant told police he was concerned that the other suspect was still inside. That man fled, and he remained at large late Friday.
Hartford Police Chief Daryl K. Roberts said the incident is being investigated as a "justifiable homicide" that occurred when the homeowner disrupted burglars.
The incident highlights what Hernandez and neighbors Angela King and the accountant say they have complained about for years.
"Something drastic had to happen before the police came here," Hernandez said.
"Unless they establish more of a police presence here, what else is going to happen?" the accountant said.
Each said they had complained about vandals and burglaries during block watch meetings, but they've continued to fall victim to dope addicts who litter their lawns with syringes at night and burglarize their homes while they are at work. They say they feel trapped.
"We are targets because we work during the day," said the accountant, who formed a relationship with Eddie once he moved into the neighborhood. He could see that Eddie was overwhelmed with his renovation project, and he brought over a lawn trimmer to cut the grass that had grown a foot high.
"That house was a mess," Hernandez said.
They empathize with Eddie for having to defend himself and his property. "I would do the same thing," said Hernandez, who has had his car vandalized, his plants stolen from his yard and trouble with youths congregating in his backyard.
City records show that the multi-family house at 124-126 Park Terrace was bought in December by a woman, whose name was on the mailbox. It is not clear what relationship she had with Eddie, but his neighbors said Eddie's wife and a school-aged child also lived there.
Eddie continued to do home improvements despite his troubles with thieves, they say.
"He was a hard worker. Always, he comes here and he doesn't stop working," said Hernandez, a teacher in one of the city's schools. "I have to live here seven years in this condition. I just want to leave today," he said.
His neighbors on the porch nodded their heads, as Hernandez's daughter played jump rope on the porch.
It was unclear Friday night whether Eddie had been arrested. He hadn't come home by the time his neighbors returned from work.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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