Mugging prompts questions about security at mall

Patrons, businesses say city shopping center has seen better-maintained days

Posted: Friday, August 03, 2007

Two weeks after an unknown assailant attacked and mugged her son at the Peninsula Center Mall, a Soldotna woman is calling on the facility's owners to step up security.

"There are a lot of teenage kids that hang out there because they have no other place to be," she said, asking for her son to remain anonymous for privacy reasons. "They need to have on-site security or security cameras with the amount of events that have happened there in the past and probably will continue."

The woman's 15-year-old son was leaving the mall at 3 p.m. July 16 when he was knocked to the ground and his bike stolen. He suffered a minor concussion and a contusion to his ribs.

"The only thing he remembered was his head smacking on the concrete and being disoriented," she said. "We have no significant leads yet."

Lack of security is one of many problems patrons and shop owners have with the mall. Since the facility changed owners last year, patrons and merchants say the mall has fallen victim to neglect, graffiti and vandalism. Diana Vasicek and Barbara Basas have frequented the mall on a weekly basis for nearly 15 years and said it used to be a nice place to spend the day. Now, they say the mall has become deserted.

"It could be a nice mall," Vasicek said. "It seems like everybody's leaving. No one stays, they move."

Vasicek and Basas come to the mall to visit with Mary Lou Diamonds, owner of Ginger's Restaurant, and to do some shopping, but aren't thrilled about walking through cracked doors or dodging teenagers on skateboards and bikes.

"There's no one to control them," Basas said. "We ask them to be careful. We come here to walk and we don't need that stuff."

Mall owner Avery Pennington said shop owners have called the police on teenagers before, but he doesn't think full-time security staff would be worth it.

"The worst thing that I can think of was a young individual took some money out of a tip jar," he said, adding there are 16 security cameras on the premises. "We address (problems) whenever they come up."

With no full-time staff at the mall, Pennington depends upon the merchants to clean up and keep an eye on things.

"It's not like an Anchorage-level mall," he said. "Most of the arrangements (I) have in place with the merchants is they work as far as cleaning — it's not a formal arrangement — they know to contact me if something happens."

After four years of doing business at the mall John Debettencourt, owner of Bruce's Street and Skate Shop, said the lack of management isn't worth the rent he pays and he will be looking for a new place to set up shop once his lease runs out next year.

"We pay a higher rent in a mall for traffic," he said. "When there's no traffic, there's no reason to come here."

Owner of one of the main attractions for teenagers at the mall, Debettencourt said he hasn't seen kids riding their bikes through the mall, and would put a stop to it if he did.

"(The teenagers) are fine 'cause they know not to screw around or we'll kick them out," he said.

Diamonds opened Ginger's three years ago and said since the mall changed owners, she's lost customers because of the condition the restrooms are in.

"It's maintenance that's the big thing," she said, adding that her customers have complained about the graffiti and have even turned the faucet in the restroom only to have it come off in their hand. "The sad thing is this is the only mall (on the peninsula), and it's in sad shape."

Graffiti and security wasn't an issue when Glen Martin owned the mall, patrons say. Vasicek and Basas said despite all the years they've been shopping, they don't know what the new owners look like.

"We always talked to Glen," they said. "The new owners need to come themselves. They're not accessible, we've never seen them and we're here all the time."

Debettencourt said the mall's problem is the way it's run.

"It needs to be managed," he said. "When Glen owned it he always knew what was going on."

The mother of the mugging victim said police are no closer to finding her son's assailant than they were two weeks ago and are asking for the community's help to locate the assailant. She said the individual is a white male between 15 and 20 years old with blond hair. The bike is a red 26-inch Next Generation mountain bike with gray lettering on the side.

"It's just one of those inexpensive bikes, it wasn't like a BMX or anything," she said. "It was actually a Christmas present from his dad and I."

Jessica Cejnar can be reached at jessica.cejnar@peninsulaclarion.com.

Editor's note: The name of the Soldotna woman was withheld to protect the identity of her son. It is the Clarion's policy to not identify minors who are victims of crime.



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