March 28, 2013 in City

Community divided on shooting of car thief

By and The Spokesman-Review
 
Tyler Tjomsland photo

A memorial to Brendon Kaluza-Graham features handwritten comments from supporters and detractors Wednesday on a utility pole on North Lee Street on Monday.
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A poster intended to memorialize “a friend and son” has become a message board for a community divided about whether a Spokane homeowner was justified in killing an unarmed man who stole his Suburban.

“Murder is not the answer,” one note says.

“Don’t commit crime! This is what happens!!” reads another.

The board is nailed to a North Lee Street utility pole next to the garage police say 25-year-old Brendon Kaluza-Graham slammed into after 56-year-old Gail Gerlach shot him in the back of the head after he stole his SUV.

Gerlach has not been charged in the shooting. Although he fired his gun as Kaluza-Graham drove away, he told police the man appeared to be armed, according to court documents.

Gerlach grew up in the Chief Garry Park neighborhood and stayed there to raise his own family. Neighbors who know him were unwilling to talk much because they said they didn’t want to gossip. One woman who has known him most of his life, though, said he’s “a good man.” Another called him a “good dad.”

Residents suggested Wednesday that Gerlach’s actions may have been triggered by frustration over property crime in the neighborhood.

Dan Wilson, a resident who is also a caretaker for the owner of the destroyed garage, said many people have been coming by in the last two days to share their opinions.

A lot of the sentiment, he said, comes from a belief that the police aren’t doing enough to fight crime in the area. That breeds an attitude of every man for himself, he said.

“The world’s going to hell in a handbasket if we don’t step up,” Wilson said.

Wilson noted a recent rash of car thefts.

“Sad to say,” said Colleen Gardner, co-chair of the Chief Garry Park Neighborhood Council, it’s indicative of crime problems in the area.

Gerlach “probably just said, ‘That’s enough,’ ” Wilson said.

Five vehicles have been confirmed stolen in that neighborhood in the past two weeks, according to police.

In an email, Spokane police Chief Frank Straub called Monday’s incident “sad and unfortunate” and said his department takes crime in all areas of the city seriously.

“We are using real-time data to identify crime patterns and trends and to adjust our resources accordingly,” Straub said. “It is our pledge to continue to work aggressively to achieve significant crime reductions throughout the city.”

The Police Department eliminated its property crimes unit in 2011, warning residents that only about 5 percent of property crimes would be investigated.

Chief Garry Park neighborhood resident Joe Bercier said he still has faith in the department.

“I don’t think (Kaluza-Graham) deserved it,” Bercier said, “I think the cops could have caught him.”

A victim of car vandalism over the years, Bercier said he understands Gerlach’s frustration but thinks the SUV owner may have had other options, such as shooting out the vehicle’s tires.

“To kill someone for stealing a truck, I couldn’t do that,” he said.


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