Crime a near daily occurrence in Southampton MeadowsPublished 9:33am Wednesday, January 23, 2013
FRANKLIN—Fredricka Porter’s children know what to do when they hear gunshots.
“I just tell them to hit the floor,” said Porter, a 16-year resident of Southampton Meadows Mobile Home Park. “If a bullet comes in the house and hits the furniture, (they may not get hit).”
And so it goes at Southampton Meadows, where the Southampton County Sheriff’s Office investigates more crimes than any other community in the county, said Major Gene Drewery. Deputies in 2012 responded to an average of 21 calls per month, or 13.6 percent of all incidents for the year.
Deputies last year investigated 17 burglaries, 19 simple assaults, 12 thefts, 20 cases of vandalism, 31 non-violent domestic calls and 14 incidents of trespassing in addition to calls for fights and shots fired at the trailer park on Route 258 south of Franklin.
In October 2010, Darrin Lee, 28, during an attempted robbery was shot to death outside his home in the Meadows. In June, two 14-year-old boys were charged with disemboweling a kitten that died before authorities could get it to a vet.
Residents and management at the 232-lot park blame the crime on unsupervised teens and the unemployed.
“If you look at these trailers, some need (repairs),” said Porter. “If you’ve got no-good people who don’t want to work, they will come to a trailer with a hole in the wall. Sometimes you have 15 to 20 people in one trailer.”
“It’s the teenagers and younger (kids) who vandalize and break windows,” added Mac Davis, co-manager of the park owned by Gordon Paper Co. in Virginia Beach.
Drewery attributes the problem to the park’s 600 to 700 residents living in such close quarters, few landlords requiring background checks and the number of residents who are unemployed or dropouts.
“There have been and probably still are gang elements residing there,” Drewery said. “There is often reluctance to cooperate with law enforcement for fear of retribution.”
While Davis co-manages the park, which is 95 percent full, the trailers are owned by various landlords. New residents are checked for felony backgrounds and the ability to pay rent.
He agrees with Drewery; residents are reluctant to report crimes.
“If we had more cooperation from the tenants to report what they see and back us up (it would help),” Davis said. “That’s a big problem.”
He blames the courts for not levying stiffer penalties against vandals, particularly minors.
“If they get caught, they let them go,” Davis said.
When a minor is arrested, police by law can’t release their names. With names, families could face eviction, he said.
“I feel if the justice system was changed …,” Davis said.
He noted that 95 percent of the residents are good people.
“I’ve been here 20 years,” Davis said. “I know them all personally. This is not a bad park.”
Porter has seen Southampton Meadows change for the worse since moving there in 1997 after finding a good buy on a trailer. A single mother of two, the home health care aide doesn’t have the money to move.
The 36-year-old fenced in her lot. On her front door is a “Beware of Dog” sticker with a Doberman pinscher. on it.
She also has her storm door covered with paper so people cannot look inside with thoughts of breaking in.
Porter keeps her 8-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son indoors. Summers are spent away from home with relatives.
And theft runs rampant.
Porter had her central air-conditioning stolen. An attempt was made to steal a four-wheeler from her shed.
Resident Darrell Evans said his car was stolen from his front yard.
Since moving across the road from Southampton Meadows 11 months ago, Oris Lee Bowers’ home was burglarized. A 65-inch TV valued at $4,000 and cash were stolen.
“They kicked the door down, went into my drawers and turned furniture upside down,” the 48-year-old said.
Bowers didn’t speculate on the reason for the park’s poor reputation, but said he won’t leave his home and plans to beef up the security.
Drewery said there are landlords in the county who require background checks and have lease stipulations about “bad” behavior of their tenants.
“The Sheriff’s Office would help the landlords with both if requested,” he said.
He urged residents to use the Crime Line, which is 653-2900 to report tips anonymously.
The Sheriff’s Office could also assist in a Neighborhood Watch, Drewery said. This request can be made by telephone or by going to www.shso.org.