Editorial

The Wrong Place at the Wrong Time

A man was robbed at gunpoint on Bold St., half a block from Locke.

By Ryan McGreal
Published September 28, 2009

They looked and acted like a couple of stock thugs from Central Casting.

The shorter guy wore a bandanna over his face so you couldn't see any features other than his eyes, but he did most of the talking, and he had the gun. The taller guy didn't say much, and his features were hidden beneath a bulky hoodie.

Kevin * was walking home from a friend's house a week ago last Wednesday, around quarter to midnight. He was walking west on Bold St. toward Locke. He could see the light of the Starbuck's at Locke and Bold. He could hear the voices of pedestrians strolling along Locke.

Between him and the lighted street, the two thugs approached. Kevin didn't think anything of it until they split up. The bigger guy veered out onto the road and came down the middle like one tine of a pair of pincers.

That was when the red flags started going up for Kevin, but the idea that he might be accosted still seemed faintly ridiculous. I'm less than a block from Locke Street, he thought to himself. What could possibly happen?

Plenty, it turns out.

In response to the pattern the two thugs were following, Kevin veered outside their net. The smaller guy veered out to match him. He veered in, and the other followed suit again. Kevin started to consider his options: Do I run? Do I aim for the shorter guy and try to hit him? Do I try to race between them?

By this time he was thinking: One of these guys is either going to jump me or hit me on the side of the head.

They did neither. By this time Kevin was maybe half a block from the inviting lights and reassuring noises of Locke Street. With only five feet or so between him and the two men, they sprang into action.

The shorter guy jumped forward into his path, almost touching noses. He pulled a gun out of his pants, held it in front of Kevin's face, and then pressed it against his stomach. The taller guy cut in and took a position just behind Kevin's left shoulder.

Once the reality of the gun sank in, a cascade of frustrated thoughts fell over him over the entire exchange that followed: How bad is this going to be? I wonder what a bullet feels like. He felt like he was having an out-of-body experience, like he could look down on the scenario from a position overhead.

Inside his body, he stood like a statue during the entire ordeal, which he estimates lasted about five minutes in total.

In stereotypical form, the shorter guy did most of the talking. "Give me your knapsack." Kevin took off his knapsack and handed it over. "How much cash you got? Give me your cash," ordered the man with the gun.

Kevin's heart sank. He had only about five dollars on him. Here it comes, he thought. They'll shoot me because it's not enough.

He pulled out his wallet and handed it over. "I've only got five dollars," he said.

The two men frisked him and found a lump in his left pocket. "What's that?" they asked. He pulled out his work cell phone and gave it over.

Another lump, this time in has back pocket, turned out to be a pack of Colt cigars. He handed it across.

That's when things got awkward. A dead silence played out, the three men standing together on a side street less than half a block from bright, noisy Locke. No one spoke for a long time.

Someone's going to come by any minute, thought Kevin in the silence. Someone will open a window, call the police, they'll come any minute. But no one came by, and no windows opened. The silence just rolled along.

This is it, thought Kevin. Am I going to get pistol whipped? Shot and left for dead? What will it feel like? He wondered. Will it pass through any vital organs or will I get lucky?

The man with the gun withdrew it so that it was no longer pressed into Kevin's stomach.

For some reason - and later on he couldn't explain why - Kevin spoke up without thinking. "Hey, can I have one of those Colts? I really need one right now."

Smart or foolish, it seemed to break the impasse. "No," said the big guy, and the two men abruptly walked away to the east.

Could it really be over? Five minutes with a gun pressed against you feels like an eternity.

Kevin took off toward Locke Street and didn't look back until he reached the corner. The thugs were at Pearl St. and continuing eastward.

He supposed he should call the police right away, but all he could think about was getting home - to his wife and children who, a few minutes earlier, he didn't know if he would ever see again.

He headed south and walked as fast as he could toward home. As he put it later, "My shoes barely touched the sidewalk."

On the way he felt a twinge of guilt as he watched a woman walk by with her dog, followed by a couple holding hands. He wanted to yell at them, "Everyone, get home!" but he couldn't. He wanted - needed - to get away as quickly as possible. He also speculated that he would frighten them badly cutting across the street and raving about men with guns.

He called the police after getting home and they arrived very quickly. The officers were helpful and professional. They advised him that it was not likely that they would be able to catch his assailants, but nor were they likely to return to his house, even though they had his personal information.

The officers told him, "This kind of element, they're not going to come to your house. They want a quick fix, then they'll move on to someone else."

They were looking for quick cash, presumably to buy drugs. Anything they couldn't use for that immediate end would be cast aside. Later, Kevin and his co-workers would check to see if the cell phone had been used. True to the officers' assessment, it hadn't.

The following days were an emotional roller coaster. After 24 hours of shock, he finally broke down when his daughter visited home and hugged him. From there he see-sawed: between feeling that the world is rotten and crappy and a conscious thankfulness that the good people astronomically outweigh the bad; between appreciating the small beauties in life and flying off the handle at minor irritations (he's normally a very easy-going guy).

What he wants people to understand is that this kind of thing can happen to anyone. "We live in a bubble in our neighbourhood. We think all the crackheads are in the east end, but you have to be cautious anywhere you live."

All in all, this crime looks like an unfortunate case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. According to the city's crime statistics, Ward 1 is among the safest places to live in the city. Robberies for Ward 1 are low and falling:

Report available here: http://raisethehammer.org/data/city_crime_stats.asp based on crime data published on Ward 1 Councillor Brian McHattie's website.

Sergeant Jo-Ann Savoie, the community crime manager for Ward 1, confirmed the best ways to be safe when walking at night:

If confronted: "Don't fight. Give up your items. Remember that your safety is paramount." Sgt Savoie added, "Contact police soonest and if possible give as much physical description as possible."

Ironically, Kevin was walking toward Locke St. instead of heading south on Pearl to his traditional shortcut through the HAAA Park precisely because of the warning to stay on well-lit streets. On this particular night he was also going home early from his weekly get-together.

The wrong place at the wrong time.


* At the victim's request, I have replaced his name with a pseudonym to protect his privacy.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By jason (registered) | Posted September 28, 2009 at 12:31:56

man, what a horrible ordeal. I hope 'Kevin' is ok and can recover from this. I can't imagine what that would be like.

I've thought of this exact issue recently when walking around downtown. I know in my head that it's wiser to walk on busier roads instead of quieter side streets, but I NEVER walk on our main streets. Call me crazy but walking along the shoulder of the QEW ain't my style. This story hits close to home because Bold is ALWAYS my walking route of choice from Locke to downtown. I don't know why, I just always take Bold. I refuse to walk on Main Street.

Pretty sad when in most of urban Hamilton your choice is a quite, comfortable, yet possibly dangerous side street or a noisy, traffic sewer of a freeway.
Eyes on the street are absolutely the best crime fighter, but you've got to have some serious internal fortitude to be one of those sets of eyes on York or Main etc.....

Thanks for sharing Ryan, and again I wish Kevin all the best.

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By rusty (registered) - website | Posted September 28, 2009 at 12:43:17

The Star used the phrase 'the wrong place at the wrong time' to explain a shooting that happened last week. A reader complained that it was not the victim's fault. It was the crooks who were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

This poor bloke was just walking home, on a nice street non the less.

Never-the-less there is some good advice here. Thanks for sharing.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted September 28, 2009 at 12:55:01

Ben, thanks for sharing an important perspective. It's not a crime to walk outside at night, and doing so is not an invitation to robbery or assault.

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By Really? (registered) | Posted September 28, 2009 at 14:21:19

When I was living in Toronto, there was a serious warning about Ipod budds; "Try not to wear the white budds as they're a clear giveaway that you have an ipod" which is a hot commodity in the HoldUp/Muggings World.

I have since discovered Skullcandies (ear budds) and will never go back to those cheap white ones again, especially since those are what crooks potentially look for.

I hope Kevin is doing well, but most importantly hope that this experience hasn't jaded him towards society; although it may be hard to see, there actually are some good people out there who really do care about life and show it.

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted September 28, 2009 at 18:15:54

"What he wants people to understand is that this kind of thing can happen to anyone. " Indeed. My folks live on a nice street in west Oakville. Every house on their block has been broken into, except theirs. However, their garage has been broken into, as has my father's car.

Here's a tip. My sister (who lives near downtown) has had her car broken into twice. Why? Because she made the "mistake" of leaving small change (and not very much at that!) visible. So keep the quarter you have in the car for the shopping cart at No Frills well hidden.

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By Jelly (anonymous) | Posted September 29, 2009 at 17:45:39

That sucks. I was in the exact same area a couple weeks ago, also late at night- I even remember thinking how dimly lit those sidestreets between queen and locke are. Ever since being mugged at knifepoint a couple years ago I've been paranoid in a way that I never used to be walking around Hamilton. It's a terrible feeling to be violated that way.

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By jason (registered) | Posted September 29, 2009 at 18:28:36

does anyone know if this made the Spec? I don't get it, but I'd like to think I would have heard from some suburban friends of mine if there was 4 days worth of huge headlines proclaiming "GUN ATTACK ON LOCKE".
Maybe those headlines are only reserved for James North or Barton St??

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By hammered (anonymous) | Posted October 01, 2009 at 01:53:14

I wish all the best for "Kevin" and know the incident will unfortunately take some time before it fades but I hope this will not keep him from travelling in the neighbourhood.


Think maybe Ward 1 has better stats because the crimes commited are not recorded?
I checked the Spec and even their police blotter has no mention of "Kevin's" robbery.

I also live in the area and know of a spot used by prostitutes as well as a house that late night illicit activities have occured more than once. I have witnessed an assault by a jerk to his girlfriend and almost was assaulted for my trouble when I was about to step in ( I then promptly called the cops but the two were gone before they came, the girl holding the guy trying to calm him down). I have even seen suspicious late night meetings in darkened areas between vehicles yet nothing has been done aboutr any of it though three out of the four above mentioned have been reported. All these happened within a several blocks of "Kevin's" incident withing the last two years.

Ward 1 is still one of the best places to live but I think the potential for trouble is underestimated just as downtown is often over estimated. I say this even though I too have been robbed years ago by Jackson Square.



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