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Richmond's Burning

Ten people have been shot on the Richmond Strip since May. And this is where we want to send thousands of Super Bowl fans?

The Richmond Strip is a very Houstonian take on the concept of an entertainment district. Where most are cozy and pedestrian, ours is spread out and huge, like our fair humid city. Not only are the bars and clubs colossal -- some upwards of 50,000 square feet -- but so is the area itself, which runs from Sage or Chimney Rock to Hillcroft, or Fondren, or Gessner, or wherever it finally peters out into a ramshackle succession of car repair shops and tire barns out by Beltway 8.

Unique in the world, our principal boozing/dancing/pickup zone is not designed to be explored on foot. Hundreds or thousands of feet or even a mile or two separate one ginormous club from another. The strip is designed so that you park and get out at one bar, or get the valet to do it for you, and do so again and again as the night wears on.

And lately it seems the much-beloved Houston mix of alcohol, guns and cars is proving to be a lethal mix. Big trouble has come to the Richmond Strip. Let's review this calendar year, shall we? (In doing so, we'll just leave out that September 2002 incident in which two men, angered over the diss of one of their girlfriends, sprayed a crowd near T-Town in the 6400 block of Richmond with more than 60 rifle and pistol rounds, killing two and injuring four.)

On January 30, Adrian Heyne was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver in the wee hours during a trip to the strip. This was not an accidental hit-and-run, mind you -- the driver of the car that killed Heyne ran him down intentionally in a bar parking lot to settle an earlier dispute, police say.

On May 11, two young men were gunned down drive-by-style outside the Paradise Hall nightclub in the 9300 block of Richmond. Both survived, but there have been no arrests. Five days later Eduardo Rivas wasn't so lucky. Rivas was a passenger in a car that was hit by at least one bullet at the corner of Richmond and Sage. Until the driver arrived at Rivas's home, she didn't know that Rivas was mortally wounded and not merely sleeping off a tear. Like the earlier incident, this was also a drive-by, and also like that case, no suspects have been apprehended or identified.

T-Town was in the news again on June 22 when cousins Rene Gonzalez and Samuel Antu were gunned down after leaving the huge club complex. The shooter grabbed a gun out of the trunk of his car and started firing, either at unseen assailants across the street or just for the hell of it. Gonzalez and Antu were in the wrong place at the wrong time, but both were lucky enough to survive. No arrests have been made.

On June 30, two more cousins -- Rodolfo Martinez, 17, and José Martinez, 18, both of Needville in Fort Bend County -- were driving near Fondren on Richmond around 2 a.m. in a yellow Cadillac. A suspect, described in the Houston Chronicle as "someone," pulled up alongside them and shot Rodolfo in the head and riddled José's body with lead. Both were dead before the day was out. "Someone" has yet to be apprehended.

In the wee hours of July 6, three more young partyers left the strip on stretchers. Near the corner of Richmond and Unity (oh, the irony) the young folks got into an argument with another carload of pissed-off night owls. Both cars skidded to a halt in a Denny's parking lot, where harsh words quickly escalated to gunfire. Two men and a woman were hit; all survived. Police attributed the shooting to road rage. Once again, no arrests have been made. (And this isn't meant to pick on HPD. It's hard to catch people who are already in their cars or right beside them. See the D.C. snipers for proof.)

The very next night, off-duty deputies at Sam's Boat heard a commotion in the parking lot. There they found a man beating his female companion and trying to drag her into his car. When they attempted to intervene, the woman escaped and the man jumped in his car, gunned the engine and attempted to run the deputies down. They opened fire on the man, who escaped unscathed, only to be arrested a short time later by an HPD officer.

Beginning this January and through May (the last month for which crime stats were available), there were 107 robberies, 73 aggravated assaults and five rapes on the strip, in addition to the ten shootings and the successful and attempted vehicular homicides listed above. That's more than one violent crime a day, not to mention scores and scores of burglaries of cars and businesses.

Cars were a factor in all of these crimes, though guns were not. In other words, guns don't kill people, but people who keep guns in their cars kill people. Racket put the cars + guns = havoc theory to Rice sociology chair William Martin. "And I imagine some of those people might have been drinking, too," he says. "That's clearly our most dangerous drug, and guns and cars are two of our most favorite artifacts, both of which can be deadly. When you combine all three, you've got a potentially violent combination. Not potentially, that's real. You mix alcohol, guns and cars -- all three of those have been killing people for a long time."

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