Man killed at Sunset Lounge

WARREN – Police spent much of New Year’s Day trying to put the pieces together of an early morning shooting that claimed the life of a 25-year-old man at a downtown club marred by controversy.

Police said they believe that gunfire erupted just after 2 a.m. inside the Sunset Lounge after a fight on the dance floor during a New Year’s party. The victim, Cory Blackwell of Warren, was found outside the bar. He was taken to Trumbull Memorial Hospital, where he later died.

Later on Tuesday, police detectives said that they had no suspects and no arrests had yet been made, but they were following several leads and questioning numerous people.

“All we really know at this point is that it started with a fight and ended with a gun,” Warren police Detective Wayne Mackey said.

The fatal shooting marks the city’s first for 2013, but the second in less than two months. Two men are awaiting trial in the Nov. 11 shooting death of 32-year-old Marco Dukes Jr. of Warren.

Tuesday’s shooting also extends a long list of grievances city officials have levied against the bar at 480 E. Market St. S.E., which is close to the area where Dukes was shot on Elm Court. The two men facing murder charges in connection with the Dukes’ shooting – Derrick Peete and Dale Hatch – each have addresses in Detroit and Warren, and criminal histories in Detroit. Peete also has been convicted of drug-related crimes in Warren.

“I’ve been concerned something like this would happen there at the Sunset,” said Warren Councilman Greg Bartholomew, who represents the 4th Ward, where both shootings took place. “The thing is you can’t predict something like this and you can’t close a place on speculation.”

However, Bartholomew said he hopes that Tuesday’s event is “one more reason, one more concern and hopefully one more thing” that the state will look at when it comes time to consider whether to renew the bar’s liquor license.

A hearing on the matter was continued twice within the last few months and has not yet been rescheduled.

Attempts by a Tribune Chronicle reporter to reach someone at the Sunset on Tuesday – in person and on the telephone – were not successful.

Shortly after Tuesday’s shooting, a passer-by said he could see people streaming from the bar and embracing one another out front. A woman who said she was in the bar at the time said “people were shooting” and that at least one person was shot.

Police said they believe Blackwell was the only person injured. However, two ambulances were at the scene by 2:20 a.m.; one drove away within five minutes with its sirens on. The second left the scene without sirens, according to the passer-by.

Around 6 p.m. Tuesday, reports coming across police scanner traffic indicated there might be a second victim to the Tuesday morning “East Market Street shooting.” Police could not be reached to elaborate.

Warren detectives placed the bar, which was packed with people at the time of the shooting, on “lockdown” almost immediately after arriving at the scene.

The shooting is the latest in a string of controversies surrounding the popular night spot, giving city officials yet another reason to fight to have the club closed down. Some officials have gone so far as to call the club a nuisance.

Warren police received more than 20 calls for service to the Sunset from May through August in reference to fights, vehicle theft, a traffic accident, suspicious vehicles and people, disturbances and alarms, according to reports.

However, Joe Sankey, who owns the building, said previously that many of those calls were in reference to suspicious people outside the club and traffic stops at the busy intersection of East Market Street and Elm Road. The Sunset is located at a corner of that intersection.

When reached by a Tribune Chronicle reporter by telephone on Tuesday, Sankey said he had no comment on the shooting.

City officials have said that many of their concerns about the Sunset are based on the findings of an Aug. 2 state inspection of the club in response to a complaint of “hidden ownership.”

Agents reported finding documents linking felon LaShawn Ziegler to the club. Ziegler pleaded guilty two years ago to nine felony counts in connection with automobile fraud and illegal drugs. Terms of Ziegler’s probation include a stipulation that he never enter a liquor establishment.

One of those documents was a three-page partnership agreement, dated Feb. 2, 2012, between Ziegler and Anthony Dukes Sr. The agreement outlines how the Sunset is to be run, how profits are to be divided between the two of them and how their salaries are to be withdrawn.

Ziegler told a Tribune Chronicle reporter last month that although initially he had business ties to the Sunset, he severed them months ago after he was told he could not work there.

The club, formerly Blue Magoo’s Tap and Grill, opened in May.

Ziegler has a past with controversial clubs. City officials in April 2008 boarded up Ziegler’s Benji Brown’s, a North Park Avenue bar and later an after-hours club, labeling the site a nuisance. A lawsuit against city officials over the after-hours club is pending. Local businessman Robert Cregar owns that building.

Ziegler also owned 77 Soul, a Youngstown Road lounge that was the scene of many violent episodes that resulted in police action.

“You knew the inevitable was going to happen at this bar,” Bartholomew said. ”But how cliche to have it on a party night like that?”

Warren Mayor Doug Franklin said that police were working hard on Tuesday to solve the crime, and he’s confident detectives will have an arrest made quickly.

“In the meantime we’ll do what we can to quell these kinds of activities in the downtown area, and actually in all areas of the city,” he said, adding that officials are looking at strategies to make the city safer.

“Obviously, you hate to hear of any violent activity like that, the first day of the year or any day of the year for that matter,” he said. “But we are taking this seriously and we will be working hard to end this kind of violence and behavior in Warren.”