Reginald Reynolds-X, left, Darrell Wilson and Cheryl Lewis, all of Detroit, talk about a carjacking early Thursday in the Olympia Coney Island parking lot that left one man dead. “We are all walking prey here in the city of Detroit,” Reynolds-X said. (John T. Greilick / The Detroit News)
Detroit — Customers interrupted during late-night meals at Olympia Coney Island grabbed for towels and tried in vain to save a man who was carjacked and fatally shot in the parking lot.
"They tried to help," said a man who identified himself as Leo, the restaurant owner, who wouldn't give his last name because of fears of reprisals. "They tried to slow down the bleeding."
The man, whose identity has not been released, was killed around 4 a.m. Thursday in the coney island's parking lot at Harper Avenue and Chalmers, Detroit Police Sgt. Eren Stephens said. The suspects drove off in the man's Range Rover, Stephens said.
It's the latest example of violence in the city that's already had more than 160 murders this year. At the same time, criminals have become more brazen.
While a Detroit News reporter was interviewing customers at the restaurant about the carjacking, a police cruiser pulled up to investigate a robbery at the beauty supply shop next door.
Detroit Police Sgt. Ron Gibson said at least four unarmed women entered Kim's Eden around 11:45 a.m. Thursday, jostled the clerk and made off with various hair products. No one was injured.
The persistent crime and violence has some Detroiters resigned to a mixture of fear and frustration.
"There's no one to help us as citizens," said Reginald Reynolds-X, 55, who lives down the street from the eastside restaurant. "We have no help other than ourselves. There's no hope. This city is going down at a rapid pace. As citizens we are doomed.
"We are all walking prey here in the city of Detroit. We are our own genocide. It's a process of eliminating ourselves."
Leo, who has owned the 24-hour diner for seven years, said the circumstances leading up to the carjacking are unclear. The victim, he said, "may have been passing by."
By late morning, the restaurant had returned to near normalcy. But the killing was on the minds of the customers, including Darrell Wilson. "There's no value to anybody's life," he said. "We've got to work together."
Wilson says he's still sickened by the February carjacking of an 86-year-old World War II veteran at a BP gas station at West McNichols and Fairfield Avenue.
The war veteran, Aaron Brantley, crawled across the pavement seeking help after he was attacked from behind at the pump and pushed down in broad daylight. Multiple witnesses did nothing. The incident was caught on tape and caused widespread outrage after it was broadcast.
"Nobody helped him up," Wilson said. "He needed help."
The city has seen a string of high-profile crimes. The Rev. Marvin Winans, founder of the Perfecting Church in Detroit, was carjacked May 16 at a Detroit gas station. Stanley Knox, a former Detroit police chief, was robbed May 8 while mowing his lawn in northwest Detroit. And earlier this week, state Rep. Jimmy Womack, D-Detroit, was robbed outside a Detroit convenience store.
Detroit Deputy Mayor Kirk Lewis said each incident is a tragedy.
"The year-to-date number of major crimes in the city is trending down, but one homicide is one too many," he said in a statement Thursday. "Chief Ralph Godbee and his staff are having an impact as they implement a variety of strategies to get more officers on the streets, including the creation of the Virtual Precincts.
"But as a community, we have to utilize every available resource to make our neighborhoods and city safer."
Godbee is considering requiring officers — especially those on the midnight shift — to check in on late-night gas stations and businesses such as Olympia Coney Island that are open 24 hours.
"We've got to create safer environments," Godbee said Thursday morning on Angelo Henderson's radio show on WCHB-AM (1200).
Detroit police are battling crime in a time of slashed budgets and a shrinking police force.
City leaders cut $75 million from the Police Department's $414 million budget for fiscal year 2012-13 that started July 1. About 380 police positions are expected to be cut from the 2,600-member force by retirements and attrition. The city has about 1,000 fewer officers than it had 10 years ago. Godbee noted that despite the cuts, "We still have 140 square miles to cover."
Officials with the Detroit Crime Commission, a nonprofit group that assembled in September to assist police, say residents have to do their part to curb crime.
"If you know something, say something. That's the key to help law enforcement drive crime down," said Ellis Stafford, operations director for the group that aids law enforcement with nuisance abatement and crime analysis. "They need information. They need a place to start."