A small area consisting of only a few streets has seen a concentration of some of the most violent crimes in the parish over the past few years and residents living there say they are fed up with the senseless murders that have taken teen lives.
The Preston Hollow neighborhood in St. Rose, along with nearby streets, has been the scene of four murders and at least three shootings since 2007. That includes three of the past four murders in the parish going back to February 2011.
Before the area was developed in the late 1960s, it was a pecan grove owned by a local family by the name of Blackwell.
The pecan trees were razed in order to make way for six blocks of housing cut through by two main streets running north to south named Turtle Creek Lane and Mockingbird Street. There are also three short linking streets running east and west named Beverly Drive, Normandy Drive and finally Adams Street in the northernmost part of the subdivision bordering railroad tracks.
Keith Adams, president of the Preston Hollow Homeownerís Association, said the area was always meant to be low income housing. The low priced homes attracted mainly African American homebuyers.
"Back then there was a lot more swamps and we even had a playground here for a while," Adams said.
Not long after Preston Hollow was fully developed, the playground was torn down, the swamps were reclaimed and the parish put up a steel wall between the neighborhood and Riverwood Estates, which was made up of a single street, Riverwood Drive.
Adams said the wall cut the communities off from one another.
"They put it up because a neighborhood was being built where the homes are worth $300,000," Adams said. "It looks like economic segregation to me."
In fact, homes in Preston Hollow regularly sell in the range of just over $100,000 with some selling as low as under $50,000, whereas home prices in Riverwood Estates range from the low $200,000s to over $500,000.
Adams said blocking the neighborhoods off from one another by constructing a wall has, in his mind, created the mentality of being stuck in a pen.
"Psychologically I look at it as though you are not only segregating them economically, but they are grouping people together," he said. "Instead of taking people and lifting them up, we are taking people and pushing them down by cutting them off from the community at large."
Preston Hollow was fully developed in the early 1970s, into what that many longtime residents considered a close-knit neighborhood.
Sharon Charles Boutte lived in the neighborhood for nearly 40 years before recently getting married and moving into New Orleans. She said the community had a good feeling to it when she was growing up.
"Itís hard because everybody used to always think St. Rose was a good place to raise your kids because there was a good school system, jobs - a lot of things that were family-oriented," Boutte said.
She saw the neighborhood slowly change for the worse over her time there, but she was surprised by the killings of 19-year-old Jared Mealey and 18-year-old Michael McCray within seven months of each other.
Mealey was shot to death in May while sitting in his car on Turtlecreek Lane. McCray was killed in January after he was shot four times while sitting in his car on Mockingbird Lane.
"When we were growing up everybody knew everybody, everybody spoke to everybody. It is a total difference now," Boutte said. "With the recent killings thereís a lot of heartache because itís like no end to the first killing and now you have this one. These are two respectable young men who were beginning their lives."
Matthew Jackson, a local barber who cut McCrayís hair since he was a toddler, said he thinks drugs are to blame for most of the crime in the neighborhood.
"Thereís all kind of drugs that are out that reflect their mind," Jackson said. "They are gone on them drugs. They got that other kind of drink that is out and they are shooting up. Itís drugs man."
Jackson said he is likely the last person to see Michael alive.
"We ainít never had all that killing like it is here right now, but Michael was killed in front of my house," Jackson said. "I heard the shots."
Jackson exited his home with his wife behind him and saw McCrayís vehicle, the bullet holes in the car and the blood.
"He looked up, he was in the car. I just wanted to see him. I was telling my wife and all of them to go back inside," Jackson said. "I looked into (Michaelís) eyes before he died."
Eddie Jones lived in Preston Hollow for most of his life.
"This neighborhood has always been close-knit," Jones said. "People do have differences, but most of the time differences were settled with maybe a fist fight or two and that was as far as it went."
Jones said the violence in recent years, especially the recent shooting deaths, caught him off guard.
"With the killings that are going on I just think that it is a shame," he said. "I just think that this generation has no value for life."
Jones represents a side of Preston Hollow that those who cherish the neighborhood hold dear.
"I was a happy-go-lucky kid, never been to jail, never been in any trouble, never did drugs. I drank a little beer, but that was about it," Jones said.
Jones tolerated what he called the "mischief" of his neighbors. However, after returning home from a stint in the military and getting a job at a plant in a nearby town he chose to move out on his own to the nearby Dianeís Place subdivision.
"Area-wise some of the people are different. You have kids that hang around but you donít have too much of what you have here," Jones said.
Jonesís daughter, JaíRiel, a senior at Destrehan High School, agreed that Dianeís Place is much different than Preston Hollow.
"Itís totally different. There is a lot of violence and gang-related things in Preston Hollow," JaíRiel said. "In my community we donít really have that. It is very quiet."
Rick Tyler, who is older than Jones, moved to the area from Texas at a young age. He was a part of the early drug culture in the neighborhood.
"The life I was living was no good life. It was basically getting high and just wasting time. It wasnít beneficial to no one, mainly for myself," Tyler said. "It wasnít helping me. There was no growth in my lifestyle."
Tyler was part of what many residents said has been going on for a long time – a resident population of drug dealers and drug users.
Even though drugs had infiltrated the neighborhood and he engaged in the culture, Tyler did not fear living there.
"They had crimes, but when I was coming up it wasnít like it is now. They didnít have all of that shooting," Tyler said. "When you were little you didnít have all of that. We would fight but we would be back friends."
Hope Miller, who also grew up in the neighborhood and still lives there, said the changes in the area are disconcerting.
"It is scary because I have a 22-year-old kid," Miller said. "I donít know what happened to the neighborhood because for a long time we didnít have all of this."
She said she sees young men in the neighborhood and knows that their lives are headed down the wrong path.
"You are hanging on the corner, not trying to go to school and not trying to find a job. If you pass through sometimes at midday and sometimes early in the morning you might find youngsters, teenagers just hanging out," Miller said.
She said she no longer feels safe in the neighborhood.
"I donít feel it is the same as it used to be. Iíve been here all my life and havenít had to worry about these things before," Miller said. "Yes itís scary. Itís scary. At one time we could leave our doors unlocked and let the kids run around up and down the sidewalk and ride their bikes and stuff. Iím kind of afraid to do that now."
Sheila Rowel lived in Preston Hollow for 37 years before moving out four years ago. She said a big problem is that residents are fearful of turning in those responsible for crimes in the neighborhood.
"They donít get turned in. Nobody wants to talk. My generation donít want to talk," Rowel said.
She also places blame for the recent violence on residents who left New Orleans after their homes were destroyed in Hurricane Katrina.
"Things started happening after Katrina where we had a mixture of – we call them by the wards – 9th ward, 7th ward, 13th ward thatís in New Orleans – that moved out this way and when they did then other things took place in this community and you know drugs are everywhere," Rowel said. "Once that happened it got real bad, but there was no killing. No killing, just drugs."
Adams agreed with Rowel that residents who have moved into the area since Katrina have escalated the criminal atmosphere in the neighborhood.
"Since Katrina weíve had an influx of people that do not seem to endear the same spirit of community and neighborly feeling that we have had traditionally in St. Charles Parish," he said.
Rowel said she fears her mother, who still lives in the neighborhood, will be hurt.
Ď"My mother is 79 years old and Iím real worried about her safety. Iím worried that someone would go in her house," Rowel said.
However, Rowel is optimistic that the neighborhood will recover and get back to being a safe community.
Barbara Green said she has lived in Preston Hollow for years where she raised her son, Cleophus Green III, who was killed in the late 1990s at a graduation party in Destrehan.
"I have been disturbed about the murders, about the street drugs, about the boys hanging on the corners, about the crime and about the break-ins," Green said.
She said even though her son was murdered, it was in a different part of the parish at a different time and she did not feel it was related to the problems now experienced in Preston Hollow.
With the new generation in Preston Hollow she feels unsafe.
"Iím afraid. I used to ride my bike at night. Iím afraid to walk at night now. This used to be a safe neighborhood," Green said. "Iím scared to even go out on my porch at night now."
Her husband, Cleophus Green Jr., said the problems are apparent.
"The drug dealers, (the police) know who they are," Cleophus said. "Ray Charles can see that. He was blind when he was here, but he is dead and gone and he could still see things that are happening around here and the Sheriffís Office doesnít do anything about it."
Patricia Watson agreed with Cleophusís statement.
"Iím an innocent person. I can tell you who is slinging dope out here. I can tell you who is doing different things. If I know then why donít the police know?" Watson said. "If you see people just hanging on the corner and they are walking around with new shoes and new clothes and driving fine cars youíve got to know who is doing what. The police are not doing anything."
Watson has a 17-year-old son who she said she fears for.
"The good kids are getting killed. Whoís next? It could be my son next," Watson said. "How many young people are going to have to die before we get these people off the street?"
Watson said her home and her daughterís car have each been broken into three times.
Dominque Dickerson is a 19-year-old graduate from Destrehan High School who is currently attending Delgado Community College to pursue a degree in nursing and working in airport security.
She said she went to high school with both Jared Mealey and Michael McCray.
Dickerson said seeing two people she knew die violent deaths in such a short period has her scared.
"This retaliation, or whateverÖthe shooting, you donít know who could walk through your door," she said. "You are scared that somebody could come try to do that to you, so itís scary."
She said other crimes have already been perpetrated on her family.
"My motherís shed was broken into and things we had just bought for hurricanes were stolen – a big generator was stolen," Dickerson said. "Why do you take from us? Why do you take from anybody? It is just stupid."
She longs for the community to return to what it was before the recent surge in gun violence.
"This is a community. This is not New Orleans. This is not the projects. This is St. Rose. So why here?" Dickerson said.
Neighborhood leader says area has been forgotten
As a leader in the neighborhood, Adams said he feels like Preston Hollow has been forgotten by the parishís political leaders.
"I donít think there is much love for Preston Hollow from the parish leadership," Adams said. "We should have had a playground in our neighborhood, instead our kids are playing in the streets for lack thereof. We should have more of a relationship with the Sheriffís Office."
He said the parish leadership has not reacted well and the results are now showing in the number of young men and teenagers who have been arrested for the recent violent crimes.
Five of the seven young men arrested for the Mealey and McCray shootings are from the neighborhood.
"They donít want to be proactive, they would rather throw them in jail rather than intercept them when they are young," Adams said. "I think if we took a proactive step instead of a reactive step we can get to our kids before those bad influences do."
Division A Councilwoman At-Large Carolyn Schexnaydre, who represents the entire East Bank, said she has read about the problems in the neighborhood.
"Iíve been hearing it off and on that they are starting to have a lot of problems there," Schexnaydre said. "I hate to see that happen in the neighborhood."
She said the Sheriffís Office has the responsibility to keep the neighborhood safe and she would like to see more patrols in the area.
Adams said it may be up to the neighborhood to raise their own funds to hire security.
"Hopefully with contributions from some of the local plants or businesses we may be able to provide our own security or pay for a deputy to monitor the neighborhood," he said.
Sheriff , D.A. urge
community to speak up
St. Charles Parish Sheriff Greg Champagne said he understands how the citizens of Preston Hollow feel.
"It is understandable that citizens living in the Preston Hollow subdivision would be concerned since two of the last three homicides which were committed in St. Charles Parish occurred in that neighborhood," Champagne said. "It is also fairly apparent that the last two shootings are related with the most recent possibly being in retaliation for the shooting of Jared Mealey in May of 2012."
Champagne said despite the disproportionate number of violent crimes occurring in Preston Hollow, witnesses are often not forthcoming.
"Information has been scarce and hard to come by in the Preston Hollow subdivision. We realize people generally are fearful to come forward, especially in serious cases such as homicides, however there are options," Champagne said. "They can call Crime Stoppers for rewards and can remain completely anonymous. People need to call with any information they have, no matter how insignificant it may be."
In relation to the drug problem, Champagne said the Sheriffís Office has aggressively pursued drug dealers and users in the neighborhood.
"Over the years, numerous drug arrests have been made of individuals in this subdivision and area and we continue to aggressively investigate and arrest drug traffickers and users. Citizens canít assume because they see something in their neighborhood that we know it," Champagne said. "Citizens need to call 911 and report what they see."
More recently, Champagne said his office has increased patrols in the neighborhood in response to the shootings.
"We have certainly increased patrols in this area not only in an effort to protect citizens, but to develop more information in the pending shootings," he said.
District Attorney Joel Chaisson agreed with Champagneís assessment of the hesitance of Preston Hollow residents to come forward with evidence about crimes.
"Hopefully, after this members of the community will start cooperating and telling the police and our investigators what they know," Chaisson said. "If we donít have evidence on somebody we canít go after them."
Chaisson said his office will go to any length necessary to bring criminals to justice.
The District Attorneyís Office is currently investigating the murders of both Mealey and McCray for which six young men are being held for crimes involving first degree murder, first degree attempted murder and accessory to murder.
"We are determined to prosecute the individuals involved in these crimes to send the message that this type of activity is not going to be tolerated in St. Charles Parish," Chaisson said.