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One year later: Deadly shootings remain an unsolved, sordid case
In the bright sunshine of a recent morning, the parking lot outside the Sports Page Tavern in North Auburn fills up with its usual contingent of cars and smatterings of human beings.
Of the makeshift memorials, the flower bundles, the small candles and notes, nothing remains to remind anybody of what happened there.
One year ago.
But in the early morning hours of Easter Sunday 2013, this lot was the scene of a mortal confrontation. It started with a disagreement inside the bar, boiled over into a physical fight outside, and, as a crowd estimated between 100 to 300 persons looked on, exploded into a hail of bullets that cut down three young men and seriously wounded another.
Killed were 24-year-old Lorenzo Duncan, 26-year-old Nicholas Lindsay and Antuan Greer, 21.
It was among the worst homicides in Auburn in recent history.
Within days King County Prosecutors had charged 28-year-old Troy L Neal of Renton, whom police still consider a person of interest in the deadly shootings, with one count of unlawful possession of a firearm. As a convicted felon, Neal was not allowed to have a gun.
Yet, one year later, King County Prosecutors haven't charged anybody with the actual shootings.
"We're still trying to sort out what happened at the crime scene," Ian Goodhew, a spokesman for the King County Prosecutor's Office, said recently. "The deputies and the police working on that case are still putting things today in terms of trying to solicit people coming forward to give us information about what may have happened."
The events of that night are seared into the brain of Joe Mahoney, co-owner with wife Kathy of the Sports Page.
"In the 20 years of our business, that was the worst day, hands down, no question about it," Joe Mahoney said. "I was there that night, I saw the whole thing transpire, and believe me, I never want to see anything like that happen ever again.
It started out, Mahoney said, as an ordinary night. The physical fight, he said, "only showed its head" outside, five minutes after closing, as patrons poured into the parking lot and security got busy herding people to their cars.
"On the dance floor inside the building, there was no problem. They were arguing outside about a girlfriend dancing with another guy or something like that," Mahoney said.
Several witnesses told police that a woman first fired a warning shot into the air to break up a fight. Hearing that, the witness continued, a man, perhaps believing that shots were being fired in earnest, ran to his car across the lot and grabbed a gun. An estimated 20-to-30 seconds after the warning shot, multiple individuals pulled out handguns and began shooting, according to police.
Duncan, Greer and Lindsay were pronounced dead at the scene. A fourth victim, struck multiple times and transported to Harborview Medical Center in critical condition, survived.
Later that same day, police arrested a person of interest on weapons charges unrelated to the incident. They impounded several cars, and a judge issued warrants to search them. The next day, police continued to verify all the accounts of the witnesses and to look for additional people who may have been involved. They also recovered several handguns, and based on shell casings, determined that several different firearms had been used.
Police in Federal Way and Kent stopped two vehicles that matched descriptions of cars leaving the scene of the shooting, one of them pocked with bullets. Police seized those cars and questioned their occupants.
According to court papers, Neal later told detectives that shortly before 2 a.m., he saw several men fighting on the parking lot outside the tavern, one of whom he recognized as his friend, Lindsay.
After he saw a man whom he didn't know shoot Lindsay, Neal told detectives, he retrieved his own pistol and fired five rounds toward the shooter and the surrounding crowd. Neal admitted to detectives that he had been in possession of a .45 caliber handgun.
Neal was convicted in 2005 of possessing a controlled substance without a prescription and for controlled substance felony conspiracy.
"I don't want to use the word 'surprised,' about that," Mahoney said of the lack of charges, noting that there were 300-plus people in the parking lot that night.
Mahoney described what happened in the wake of the shooting.
"The City of Auburn really came down on us pretty hard after this incident, in effect, saying: 'You will not smudge our name ever again and be a business in this town. So, be a good neighbor. We want you here long term, but if you don't play by the town rules, we have the power to make you go away.'"
The Mahoneys say they took the warning seriously and have used the time since to make positive changes to an establishment with a troubled reputation.
"We were heavily into the night time crowd before that happened, and that is becoming a lighter part of our business. We are not focused on Friday and Saturday night business, we are focused on weekday, happy hour, promotion and marketing food," Joe Mahoney said.
And, he said, the Sports Page places a new emphasis on screening out potential troublemakers. While he would not elaborate on the screening process, he did say that any customers now who show the slightest signs of aggression get the boot.
"In the last year, we've probably had zero-to-five police calls because we changed our format," Mahoney said. "And we're not allowing any kind of problematic customers into our business now. We've tried to make a complete change and stay in the good graces of the community. We want to be here long term. And we have worked our asses off for the last 12 months to be a positive light for the city and the community."
Shortly after the shooting incident, the City entered a "good neighbor" agreement with the Sports Page. Property owners and the Washington State Liquor Control Board also were brought into the mix, according to Auburn Police Commander Mike Hirman.
Essentially, the Sports Page has significantly changed the way it is doing business, Hirman said.
The competitive activities/games they offer are beginning and ending earlier in the evening, Hirman said. They have hired and trained more security for the premises, adding an improved surveillance camera system.
"They are intervening earlier with troublemakers, calling the police for all crimes, instead of handling it themselves," Hirman said. "They're doing a better job of checking and confirming identification.
"In terms of calls we have responded to, they have dropped significantly," Hirman added. "We had a fight some time ago, as well as one purse theft, but the incidents have nearly disappeared."