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Metro Atlanta cities push back after being named worst cities in U.S.

Metro Atlanta cities push back after being named worst cities in U.S.

Metro Atlanta cities push back after being named worst cities in U.S.
Photo Credit: Emily Haney
Construction on the city hall in East Point, Georgia on Friday, April 5, 2019. East Point appeared on a list of worst places to live, but the people who live here don’t see it that way. EMILY HANEY / emily.haney@ajc.com

Metro Atlanta cities push back after being named worst cities in U.S.

Two years ago, Priya Marzorati was apprehensive about her move from Buckhead to College Park to be closer to Woodward Academy, her daughter’s school.

But she quickly came to love the south Fulton County community — so much so that she was quick to defend it recently when College Park, along with East Point and Union City, appeared in February on a website’s list of the 50 worst cities in the United States.

“It’s been great for us. It’s like moving back to the 1960s,” she said. “I think the area gets a bad rap.”

Marzorati was not alone in her indignation over the list, published by the financial website 24/7 Wall St., which cited home values, poverty rates and violent crime, among other factors, in compiling its rankings.

Civic leaders and residents in the south Fulton cities have pushed back hard against the website’s ranking, saying the data was old and the small size of their cities made it unfair to extrapolate crime rates per 100,000 residents. More than anything else, they said, though some perceive their cities to be bad, the cities themselves are not.

In College Park, a city of about 15,000, City Manager Terrence Moore said the fact that the list was written up by news organizations like USA TODAY and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution only helped to spread the word. But he contended that the website used poor methodology to come up with rankings that would reverberate through that city and others for years to come.

“They do not take under consideration the realities of the community,” he said. “It’s a false perception issue. It compromises our ability to share what we really are.”

Moore and College Park Mayor Jack Longino acknowledged that there is crime in their city. They said they have isolated pockets where it is more frequent, but much of the problem is linked to the small city’s proximity to the world’s busiest airport.

College Park has more than 5,000 hotel rooms and a number of park-and-ride lots that serve Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, part of which is within the city limits. All of that swells the city’s daytime population to close to 50,000 people — not counting those who are merely there for a layover, Longino said. The city gets dinged for every car break-in, and all the crime committed by people who are just passing through. It all goes to increasing the city’s crime statistics.

Police Chief Ferman Williford said College Park’s major crimes, such as rape, robbery and aggravated assault, fell 20 percent in 2017, and an additional 12 percent last year.

Like others who were frustrated by the rankings, Corey Brooks, who owns a shop in College Park’s downtown, thinks race helps shape people’s perceptions of the area.

College Park is 79 percent black, according to Census data, while East Point is 76 percent black and Union City 87 percent. In Buckhead, a largely white part of Atlanta, residents are complaining about a spike in crime, but no one is calling the neighborhood a bad place to live, said Brooks, who is African-American. They’re asking officials to make it better.

“Without a doubt, there’s a racial component,” he said. “No it’s not fair. It’s what happens, unfortunately.”

He said “worst” rankings feed into people’s preconceived notions of a place, and don’t show the money that’s being invested in an area, or the work people are doing. So the narrative doesn’t change.

Kupcakerie owner Henry Adeleye was almost a victim of perception as well, despite growing up in East Point. Adeleye said he initially planned to open his shop in East Atlanta or Midtown, before settling on a spot in downtown East Point. He decided to open the bakery in his hometown after a visit to his parents’ house.

“Slowly but surely, the perception is changing,” he said. “There are a lot of people trying to push this area forward.”

One of those people is Deana Ingraham, East Point’s mayor. She said when the worst cities list drew unwanted national attention to her town in February, her team met about whether to respond, but in the end, decided not to. In addition to the three south Fulton communities, Albany and Fort Valley were the other Georgia cities on the list.

“If you pay attention to negativity only, you allow that to overtake you, sometimes you’re stopped,” Ingraham said. “We’re going to keep moving.”

Ingraham tries to focus on the positive. Last month, Pop Displays USA announced it was bringing 300 jobs to East Point, from New York. A new city hall is scheduled to open later this month with a large mixed-use development in the works across the street. And a task force started in January to reduce car thefts and break-ins has already yielded results for the 35,000 residents in her city.

Ingraham said she knows East Point is not a utopia, but civic leaders there and elsewhere try to keep making things better.

“What people call blighted properties, I call opportunity,” she said. “The overwhelming majority of residents know the value of East Point.”

Erik Lewis, an East Point resident, said he’d like something to be done about the vacant properties, and he thinks the city could be a little friendlier to business. But the part-owner of the Beer Girl bottle shop in Hapeville said he largely likes his community.

“I think East Point could get better, but is it the worst?” he asked. “I live here, so I don’t want to think it is, but I don’t live anywhere else.”

Najay Dowdell isn’t surprised by the negative views of the south Fulton cities. She said she plans to move back to Sandy Springs when her lease is up, after her boyfriend’s car was stolen in Union City, and someone tried to break into her vehicle.

“I would say there’s better out there,” she said. “I’ve seen it and lived it.”

Union City’s mayor, Vince Williams, said he is working hard to address crime and other issues. Through March, major crimes were down 17 percent, though vehicle thefts had risen. But Williams said he’s taking steps to improve the city — boosting the city’s reserves, adding businesses and opening a community center.

City officials say the uptick in some crime stats is a result of increased reporting, which they think will have a positive impact on quality of life in the city.

“We’re working hard to make sure we change the narrative,” Williams said. “I think we’re doing all the things that are necessary.”


College Park, East Point and Union City in south Fulton County — along with Albany and Fort Valley, elsewhere in Georgia — recently appeared on a list of the 50 worst cities in the country. The list was compiled by a website, 24/7 Wall St., and quickly spread online. But the leaders of the metro Atlanta cities pushed back against the list, saying their cities were improving and were good places to live. Lists like this one create bad perceptions of good places, they say.

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  • An truck driver based in Euclid, Ohio, is accused of causing the deaths of four people lastThursday afternoon in a fiery interstate crash in McDonough, Georgia. On Monday, authorities announced charges against the driver, 39-year-old Mohabe McCoy, since all four victims had been identified. He is facing charges of second-degree homicide by vehicle, a misdemeanor, improper turn and driving too fast for conditions. >> Read more trending news  The victim’s bodies were badly burned when McCoy’s tractor-trailer slammed into the back of their Chevrolet pickup truck on I-75, according to officials with the Henry County Police Department. The pickup truck, which was hauling pine straw, was pushed into the back of another tractor-trailer and went up in flames.  The victims were identified as Jose Ibarra Yanez, 42, Jaime Sanchez, 26, Fermin Sanchez, 20, and Juana Adaliris Ortiz-Martinez, 31. The three men and woman were from Dublin, Georgia.  The crash happened around 12:15 p.m. Thursday. At the time, northbound traffic was lagging after another crash on I-75 shut down the interstate before the I-675 interchange. Video from a nearby car dealership obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution shows the first tractor-trailer slowed before an exit, and the pickup truck followed suit. McCoy’s tractor-trailer, which was hauling potatoes, did not appear to slow down before plowing into the back of the truck in the video. McCoy was arrested Thursday evening after he was checked out at Atlanta Medical Center. He is being held Monday in the Henry County Jail in lieu of a $10,000 bond. 
  • A married Georgia police officer appeared in court with black eyes last week for his first court appearance in the homicide of his girlfriend, a paramedic who was found shot to death May 11 in her home.  William Leonard Talley, 51, is charged with murder, possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime and a violation of his oath as a public officer, according to Muscogee County Jail records. A judge on Saturday ordered Talley, a sergeant with the Columbus Police Department, be held without bond on the murder charge.  Talley, a married father of two teenage daughters, is accused of shooting Kelly Susanne Levinsohn, 44, inside her home. He was arrested in neighboring Harris County after crashing Levinsohn’s truck on Interstate 185, The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer reported.  The longtime police officer, who was left in critical condition in the crash, was hospitalized at Piedmont Columbus Regional Hospital for five days before being released Thursday and booked into the jail.  His attorney, Jennifer Curry, told the Ledger-Enquirer that Talley is being housed away from the general population while he continues to recover from his injuries. Curry said Talley, a police officer since 2002, would be at risk among fellow inmates he helped put behind bars.  Curry on Saturday waived her client’s preliminary hearing and entered a not guilty verdict on his behalf.  “Our goal today really was to protect families on both sides, especially Mr. Talley’s children,” Curry told the newspaper. “They didn’t ask for this, so I’m trying to respect their privacy.” Talley’s wife was among the scant number of people in the courtroom Saturday. Despite his marital status, Columbus police officials have characterized Levinsohn’s death as the result of a domestic situation. They have not confirmed a romantic relationship between her and her alleged killer, though some of Levinsohn’s neighbors told WTVM in Columbus that the pair had been dating for more than a year.  Curry declined to comment Saturday on the nature of her client’s relationship with Levinsohn, the Ledger-Enquirer reported.  “Again, my goal today was to protect his two daughters,” Curry said. “I’m hoping that both families have time to understand what happened and come to terms with where we’re at now.” Columbus police officials said officers were called to Levinsohn’s home around 8 p.m. Saturday by an unidentified caller who told 911 dispatchers someone had been injured or killed in the home. The caller identified the suspect in the slaying as an officer with the department.  The caller met officers at Levinsohn’s home and told them the suspect had been in a car crash in Harris County, the Ledger-Enquirer reported. Officers went inside the home, where they found Levinsohn dead of a single gunshot wound.  They also found the paramedic’s vehicle to be missing, the newspaper said.  Columbus police Chief Ricky Boren told the Ledger-Enquirer that investigators recovered a gun believed to be the murder weapon. It was not a department-issued weapon, Boren said.  Talley, a patrol sergeant and SWAT team member, is on leave without pay pending a resolution of the case, the newspaper said.  Clark Rowell, who lives across the street from the crime scene, told WTVM his neighbor’s relationship with Talley was not always a peaceful one.  “One time, they had a bad argument out there on the front porch,” Rowell told the news station. “He went to the door, she opened it up and she wouldn’t let him in.” Rowell said after Levinsohn slammed the door on him, Talley “stomped” to his patrol car and left.  Talley’s own personnel record shows that he was also handcuffed by colleagues called to Levinsohn’s home more than a year before her slaying. Records obtained by the Ledger-Enquirer show officers were called to the scene around 7:41 p.m. March 11, 2018. Talley had been drinking, according to the report obtained by the newspaper.  “Talley had to be placed in handcuffs due to a brief struggle while officers attempted to calm him down and speak with him about his personal issues,” the report stated.  Two on-duty supervisors had to be called to Levinsohn’s home to deal with the situation. According to the Ledger-Enquirer, Talley served a single day’s suspension in September related to the incident.  He was not arrested, the newspaper said. It was his first disciplinary action in nearly a decade and his previous disciplinary issues were minor ones.  A sergeant since November 2009, Talley briefly became a detective in 2015, but transferred back to the patrol division less than a year later. Aside from the handful of disciplinary actions against him, he was given “glowing” performance evaluations, the Ledger-Enquirer reported.  Supervisors in 2017 complimented his “initiative” and recommended he try for a promotion to lieutenant.  From all accounts, Levinsohn also excelled at her job as an advanced emergency medical technician with Care Ambulance, the Ledger-Enquirer reported. Muscogee County Coroner Buddy Bryan told the newspaper Levinsohn had been with the service for 12 years.  Bryan said her slaying came as a shock to those she worked with. “She was very dedicated to her job. It’s a hard job, both physically and mentally hard. She took it in stride, never showed any kind of negative mood towards one of the patients that she was transporting,” Bryan said. “She was always there to ease the patient’s pain and suffering, and she was just the kind of person you would want to see come to the scene to be with you.” He said Levinsohn was also a friendly face for first responders, who were often exposed to horrific situations.  “In our line of business, me as a coroner and her as an EMT, we see a lot, car accident victims, gunshot victims, stabbing victims, sick people,” Bryan said. “(Levinsohn) was a very emotionally stable person. She kept a level head the whole time, and I praised her for that quite often.” The coroner said he was taking extra care that Levinsohn’s body was treated with respect as her mother, Wylma Levinsohn, traveled home from Israel to see about burying her daughter, who friends described as her best friend.  According to Kelly Levinsohn’s obituary, her funeral was Sunday in Columbus.  Longtime friend Staci Warman described Kelly Levinsohn as a loyal friend with a smile that was “the most contagious part about her.” “She was the best friend anybody really could ever have,” said Warman, who last spoke to Levinsohn in April, the day after Levinsohn’s birthday.  At the time, Levinsohn was on a trip to Aruba with her mother, Warman said.  Kay Witt, who had known Levinsohn since her childhood, also spoke about the tropical vacation, saying that Wylma Levinsohn will be left with a treasured memory.  “They spent a week in Aruba and had an absolute ball, snorkeling, driving around, laying on the beach, eating,” Witt told the Ledger-Enquirer. “All the things that you would do on your fantasy vacation, they did.” Witt said Kelly Levinsohn was also her mother’s “rock” as her father, Bill Levinsohn, battled cancer before his 2017 death.  Besides her mother, Levinsohn is also survived by an older brother, Gary Levinsohn, who “loved her from the minute she was born and was so proud of what she became,” her obituary said. 
  • A police officer died and two others were injured after they responded to a domestic violence call late Sunday at an Alabama mobile home park, according to multiple reports. >> Read more trending news  After an hours-long manhunt, authorities arrested Grady Wayne Wilkes, 29, on charges connected to the shooting. The slain officer was identified as William Buechner, WSFA reported. The news station reported the injured officers were identified as Webb Sistrunk and Evan Elliott. Here are the latest updates: Update 1:30 p.m. EDT May 20: Auburn police Chief Paul Register said early Monday that the two officers injured in Sunday’s shooting were expected to recover. 'This is probably the worst day of my time here,' Register said. 'Words cannot express the loss for this family, our family and this community.' One of the injured officers, identified as K-9 Officer Webb Sistrunk, was being treated Monday at a hospital in Columbus, Georgia, WMBA reported. The other officer, identified as Officer Evan Elliott, was treated for his injuries and released, according to the news network. Authorities on Monday arrested Grady Wayne Wilkes on charges including capital murder, WMBA reported. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey decried the violence. 'This is so tragic and so useless. I'm just heartbroken,' she said Monday during an appearance in Montgomery. Update 12:40 p.m. EDT May 20: Police on Monday identified the slain officer as William Buechner, a 13-year veteran of the Auburn Police Department, WBMA reported. Police Chief Paul Register identified the injured officers as Webb Sistrunk and Evan Elliott, AL.com reported. Authorities earlier Monday arrested Grady Wayne Wilkes, 29, the man suspected of shooting the officers. Officials continue to investigate. Update 8:32 a.m. EDT May 20: Police have apprehended the man accused of fatally shooting one police officer and injuring two others late Sunday at an Auburn mobile home park. According to WVTM reporter Sarah Killian, Grady Wayne Wilkes, 29, was captured Monday. >> See the tweet here Original report: According to the Opelika-Auburn News, a white man opened fire just after 10 p.m. Sunday as Auburn police officers responded to a domestic disturbance call at a mobile home park. “Responding officers were injured by gunfire and were transported to local hospitals,” Auburn police said in a news release. Although authorities have not release the officers’ names or conditions, the Opelika-Auburn News reported that one died and two more were seriously injured.  Police said the suspect, Grady Wayne Wilkes, 29, is on the run. He is described as a 6-foot-4, 215-pound white male with brown hair and hazel eyes. He was wearing body armor, camo clothing and a helmet. Wilkes is believed to be “armed and dangerous,” authorities said. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
  • The parents of an 8-year-old California girl filed a claim against the Bakersfield City School District after a dog visiting the child’s classroom allegedly bit her, cutting open the right side of her face, KGET reported. >> Read more trending news  Leilani Rivera was bitten by the animal, who had been brought to a second-grade glass at Wayside Elementary School on May 9 by a guest reader, KBAK reported.  The reader, Ann Ardell, brought two dogs into the classroom and invited students to pet them, KGET reported. When Leilani went to hug one of the animals the dog bit her, cutting her face and splitting her lip, the television station reported. 'I was crying and it was painful,' Leilani said Thursday at the law office of Chain Cohn Stiles, which is filing the claim against the Bakersfield City School District and Kern County’s superintendent of schools.  Leilani was taken to a hospital, where she underwent two hours of facial reconstructive surgery, KBAK reported. Bakersfield police spokesman Sgt. Nathan McCauley said owner Ann Ardell’s dog, which was either a chow-chow or Akita, was quarantined by animal control and released May 11, KGET reported. The incident did not appear to be intentional on the part of Ardell, McCauley told the television station. The school district issued a written statement, saying school officials immediately sought medical attention for Leilani and began an investigation, KGET reported. Since then, the school district said that due to pending litigation, it had been advised by legal counsel not to comment further, the television station reported. The claim is designated as 'unlimited,' meaning exceeding $25,000, KGET reported.
  • A man who broke into a home in Houston early Sunday died after he was shot several times by the man who found him in his teenage daughter’s bedroom, according to police and multiple reports.  >> Read more trending news Police said they were called around 2:40 a.m. Sunday to respond to a shooting at a home on North Bellaire Estates Drive. The homeowner told police he found an armed man in his 13-year-old daughter’s upstairs bedroom after a break-in. The homeowner said he wrestled the gun away from the burglar before firing it multiple times, striking the intruder, according to authorities and the Houston Chronicle. Police said the burglar, who was not identified, broke into the home through a downstairs window and walked up the stairs to get to the girl’s bedroom. Four children between the ages of 4 13 and 4 were home at the time of the incident, officials said. Detective Blake Roberts told reporters a neighbor helped get the kids out of the home after the shooting. “They did observe the suspect downstairs in the residence, stabbing himself … (with) a kitchen knife,” Roberts said, according to KPRC-TV. Authorities took the injured intruder to Memorial Hermann Southwest Hospital, where he was pronounced dead, police said. It was not immediately clear why the home was targeted. 'This appears to be random,' Roberts said. “Of course, it's still under investigation. We still have a lot of research to do on the male that broke into the house as far as his criminal history, his mental history and anything we can find in order to determine what would be the motive for this.”
  • Monday is Memorial Day, a day to honor those who died in military service to the United States. >> Read more trending news In addition to being a day to honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country, the last Monday in May is also seen as the “unofficial start of summer.” Retailers are here to help shoppers get a jump on all things summer with special deals for military personnel and great discounts for the rest of us. Here are some Memorial Day deals to jump start your three-day shopping weekend. Academy Sports and Outdoors: Military and first responders get 10% off in-store and online purchases through Memorial Day. Everyone can get discounts during the Memorial Day sale. Amazon: Look for sales on TVs, KitchenAid mixers, grills, Dyson vacuums and more. Birch Lane: Shop the Memorial Day pre-sale through Wednesday for discounts up to 70%. Bed Bath & Beyond: Save 40% on select outdoor furniture.  Belk’s: Use the code “Memorial” and get 20% off regular & sale purchases (15% off home & shoes; 10% off small appliances), through Memorial Day. Bloomingdale's: From Tuesday through Memorial Day, get 20% off Big Brown Bag sale and clearance. eBags: Get up to 60% off sitewide.  >> Memorial Day 2019: Quotes about patriotism, freedom Eddie Bauer: Use the code “CREEK40” at checkout to get 40% off sitewide when you enter coupon code 'SUMMIT40' at checkout. Famous Footwear: Get up to 60% off select sale items. Home Depot: Get 40% off select appliances. Get $10 off gallon cans of select paints an stain; $40 off 3-gallon and 5-gallon cans of paint. Hush Puppies: Save up to 50 percent on sale items. Johnston & Murphy: Get free shipping on all women’s orders and on orders more than $100.  Joss & Main: From Wednesday to May 30, save up to 70% off sitewide. Land’s End: Get 50% off all swimwear and water shoes.   Layla Sleep: Get $125 off the Layla mattress and get two pillows free. Lilly Pulitzer: Get two wine glasses, elephant wine stopper and a wicker wine basket when you spend $600 or more.  Lowe's: Get up to 40% off select appliances from Thursday through May 29. Macy’s: Sales not going on at Macy’s include select sneakers from 40% to 60% off, men’s 20% to 60% off, luggage 50% off, and fine jewelry 50% to 70% off. Old Navy: Get 50% off tees, tanks, shorts and swimwear. Nordstrom: Get 20% off Thule Baby Gear through Memorial Day. Purple: Up to $100 mattresses, plus free sheets.  Peruvian Connection: Get 20% off sale items plus free shipping through Memorial Day. Sears: Get 40 percent off select appliances. Serta: Save up to $600 on iComfort mattress sets. Target: You can save up to 30% on home and patio items. Walmart: Get 30% to 60% off on clothing, furniture, home goods, kitchen appliances, tech gadgets, toys and more. Wayfair: Through May 28, save up to 70% off mattresses, bedding and kitchen essentials; 65% off living room furniture and pet products; 60% off coffee tables, and up to 50% off grills.