The Unfriendly City

WHEELING – A handful of unrelated violent crimes – all in different areas of Wheeling neighborhoods in recent weeks – do not add up to a crime spree, according to acting Police Chief Mike VanKirk.

In just over a month, a woman was stabbed by another woman on Wheeling Island, a woman was shot to death in a North Park apartment, a man’s body was found floating in the Ohio River and a 17-year-old boy was shot at a playground on the north end of Wheeling Island.

VanKirk said the teen who was shot on Wheeling Island was still being treated last week in a Wheeling hospital and that he has changed his story several times. VanKirk said there is no suspect, and conflicting stories from the victim is hindering the investigation.

“We are not getting the truth,” VanKirk said. “… We don’t know who shot him. The info the victim has given us just hasn’t added up.”

Wheeling police detectives also have several other cases they are dealing with. Police are still investigating the Sept. 13 murder of Ashley Blankenship, 19, of Wheeling, who was shot and killed in a North Park apartment. VanKirk said the case is at a “standstill” pending the return of “lab results.” VanKirk has said there are suspects in the case, though no one has been charged.

Police have been more successful in investigating another recent act of violence. On Oct. 6, Wheeling officers arrested Stacey Marie Marshall, 27, of Bellaire on a charge of malicious wounding. She is accused of attacking a woman Sept. 24 on a Wheeling Island street and stabbing her multiple times.

VanKirk said all of those attacks are a source of concern. Even with that recent violence, the city’s top law enforcement officer said he believes Wheeling is a safe community.

“It’s not like crime is running rampant,” VanKirk said. “There is no crime spree. They are all unrelated, and they are isolated. I understand these are serious, violent crimes, but I believe the city is safe. That is my feeling. When we get to the bottom of these individual cases, the public will feel better.”

One case that remains unsolved in Wheeling is the March 11, 2008, shooting of a police department cruiser in East Wheeling.

Wheeling residents also may have been concerned by the Aug. 29 discovery of Jason Ansart’s body in the Ohio River. VanKirk said investigators are waiting for the autopsy results on the 35-year-old Wheeling man’s death.

“It could be accidental,” VanKirk said. “We have nothing to show that it is a homicide.”

Norma Dorsch is the president of the Wheeling Island Community Association. She said she is an “aggressive” person known for “getting things done.”

In 2001, according to Dorsch, Wheeling Island was “overrun” with prostitutes and drug dealers. She rallied a group of Wheeling Island residents to demand action from the Wheeling Police Department. Dorsch said as many as 30 people were arrested in a subsequent drug raid.

Dorsch suspects the recent gunfire on Wheeling Island was drug-related and that drugs are again a problem throughout the city. She said Wheeling Island is “fairly safe,” but things could be better. Dorsch said it is time for the community and Wheeling police to take action.

“Our police department needs to get a little aggressive,” Dorsch said. “We have a lot of drug dealers for such a small town. We have told police where the activity is on the Island. People need to make noise. If they have a problem, they need to call police. If they don’t get action, they need to go to the police chief and make noise.”