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PQQLK9
02-08-2005, 10:41 AM
Pool hall has been 'a safe place for kids'
Jim Adams and Darlene Prois, Star Tribune
February 8, 2005 POOLHALL0208
http://www.startribune.com/stonline/images/news69/3shootings0204.e.jpg
Under the warm green lights that illuminate the pool tables and in the bright white light that enhances security in the alley behind Jimmy's Pro Billiards, few see shadows of the violence that claimed two lives there last week.

"The pool hall has been a good neighbor," said Barb Tkach, who lives with her mother in a tidy home behind Jimmy's Columbia Heights building. Her mother, Mary Tkach, who has lived there since 1943, said she feels safer since the hall's owner installed new lighting in the alley that lies between her home and Jimmy's.

"There have been pool halls on this corner ever since I can remember," she said Monday.

Most of the six suspects charged in the Thursday night brawl and shootings that left a Tibetan man and a Cambodian man dead are members or affiliates of a violent Asian gang called Men of Destruction, said officials of the state Gang Strike Force. Police said the gang members apparently thought a group of Tibetans were members of a rival gang and provoked a fight that eventually spilled into the street near 40th and Central Avs., where the fatal shots were fired. Four people were injured.

"I would definitely call this an unusual occurrence," said Diane Toms, another neighbor of the pool hall owned by Jimmy Wetch.

"I don't think the pool hall is a negative," Toms said. "It's a safe place for kids to go. The guy keeps tabs on what is happening."

Wetch, 36, who is well-known as both a ranked professional player and billiard hall operator, said he hopes the incident won't hurt the reputation he has nurtured by working with police to improve safety and security since buying a defunct pool hall and reopening it as Jimmy's seven years ago. He said business has been slow since the shooting except for his Sunday Super Bowl tournament.

"It's an unfortunate situation," Wetch said. "Hopefully it won't ever happen again."

Other nearby billiard operators also feared for their reputations.

"We're all concerned for the image of the business," said Greg Asproth, co-owner of Billiard Street Cafe in Fridley, one of the state's largest halls. "We do our best to make sure our customers feel safe. Without that, we don't have a business."

Like Jimmy's, Billiard Street caters to a late-night crowd. Asproth said his staff is vigilant about watching for any group that seems to be looking for anything other than a game of pool. In nearly 17 years of business, they've experienced few problems, certainly nothing like last week's shootings.

"I don't believe the game of pool had anything to do with what happened," Asproth said. "If this is gang related, who can control where they go and what they do?"

About two dozen customers were shooting pool at Jimmy's on Monday night, and few seemed fazed by the shooting.

"I imagine a few people are scared, but the regulars know it's a fluke," said Tom Daley, a regular for seven years. "As long as my heart keeps pumping, I'm coming back."

Daley and others said Jimmy's attracts a diverse group of players of different ages, genders and racial backgrounds. Regardless of those differences, they said, the regulars form a familial bond that keeps them coming back. Many also cited owner Wetch as a big draw.

"I was here the night of the shooting and I came back the day after, the next day and today," said Cody Vang, a Jimmy's patron for 10 years. "The main reason I like coming here is because of Jimmy. He's a pro and he watches you, and if you don't do something right ..."

"He'll fix you," interrupted Vang's friend, Noy Champ. "Everybody here is family."

Many of the adult patrons Monday night have been coming to Jimmy's since before they were voting age. Most said they have never seen any altercations. A few said they've witnessed minor verbal spats, but nothing that would cause concern.

"It's not the kind of place to have a shooting or that kind of drama," said Joe Dunkley, 25, who's been patronizing Jimmy's since he was 14.

Jimmy's hasn't been known as a gang hangout, said Kevin Navara, an Asian gang expert for the Strike Force. He said some years ago a different Asian gang was involved in some fights at the hall.

After those incidents, Wetch said that he has maintained order by working with police, hiring a big bouncer named Savage for six months, taking IDs from players, banning gang-related clothing or hats and reducing the number of players at each of the hall's 26 tables to a maximum of four.

Columbia Heights police said that things settled down at Jimmy's after they met with Wetch several years ago. He made changes, and police foot patrols increased. The patrols were stepped up again after the shootings, said Capt. William Roddy.

Police records show police have been called to few fights at Jimmy's since 2002. In 2000, police reported four fights, two serious altercations involving weapons, and four more, mostly minor, fistfights in 2002. Two more fights, one with a weapon, came in 2003, and none last year.

Wetch said his diverse clientele includes Asians, blacks, whites, Hispanics, Somalis and others. He said he offers free pool clinics each week and sponsors tournaments for handicapped and other pool players. He said he is planning another tournament to raise money to fight gang violence.

"We all know who Jimmy is and we know he has a nice place," Asproth said. "We feel bad for him and especially bad for the people who got hurt."

Staff writer Chao Xiong contributed to this report.

The writers are at jadams@startribune.com and dprois@startribune.com

NH_Steve
02-08-2005, 04:27 PM
<blockquote><font class="small">Quote PQQLK9:</font><hr> Pool hall has been 'a safe place for kids'
Jim Adams and Darlene Prois, Star Tribune
February 8, 2005 &lt;snip&gt;
Wetch said his diverse clientele includes Asians, blacks, whites, Hispanics, Somalis and others. He said he offers free pool clinics each week and sponsors tournaments for handicapped and other pool players. He said he is planning another tournament to raise money to fight gang violence.

"We all know who Jimmy is and we know he has a nice place," Asproth said. "We feel bad for him and especially bad for the people who got hurt."
<hr /></blockquote>I think Jimmy could use some support, guys. I would like to make a two hundred dollar donation to his efforts and I invite others to join me.

Sounds to me like Jimmy has done what he could to reduce/prevent problems at his room, but this tragic incident was way beyond his control. Helping Jimmy in this effort has to help pool's image, not just there in Minnesota, but EVERYWHERE. Please join me...

I would especially like to encourage any of you guys that like to take a stand expressing concern for 'pool's image' now and then here on these message boards. Here's a chance to 'put your money where your mouth is' /ccboard/images/graemlins/smile.gif

Steve Booth
OnePocket.org