Our Views: Spate of tragedies in Janesville, Rock County raise cause for concern

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Thursday, May 8, 2014

Recent weeks have not been good for Janesville and Rock County.

Crimes have brought bloodshed and heartbreak. Let’s recap the carnage:

-- April 3, Phillip A. Byrd, 39, of Janesville was charged in Dane County with domestic first-degree intentional homicide while armed in the Feb. 23 shooting of his former girlfriend, Cheryl Gilberg, in Mazomanie.

-- April 20, a hit-and-run driver killed two Janesville motorcyclists on Highway 14 near Janesville. Five days later, authorities arrested former Janesville resident Sambath Pal, 24, of Park City, Illinois.

-- April 25, Beloit police found Edward D. Haley, 36, dead of gunshot wounds on a road near Townview Elementary School.

-- May 1, Beloit police identified two Beloit suspects in a second fatal shooting April 25. Raymond Holloway, 20, died that afternoon. Jajuan Logan, 20, was arrested April 30 in Racine. The second suspect, Angelo Young, 31, remained at large. Police didn’t indicate whether the two fatal shootings were related.

-- Sunday night, Janesville’s Clayton J. Courtney, 28, was arrested for the near-fatal stabbing of his roommate. Courtney also is suspected of killing Britney N. Cross, 21, of Indianford that day. His roommate says Courtney stated he killed three people, and police continue to investigate that claim.

Don’t forget that Mary Coulthard, 75, left her apartment Friday night in downtown Janesville and remains missing. Or that in Delavan, just east of Rock County, Rafael Olivarez, 39, is charged in the fatal stabbing Sunday of his cousin, Ivan Guerrero, 31.

Each tragedy gives our communities another black eye. Residents and outsiders alike wonder what in the world is going on. Are our cities safe?

Generally speaking, at least in Janesville, the answer is yes. The city’s lone suspected homicide in 2013 involved a drug given to an infant. Crime in general has been falling. Most of these crimes aren’t random. Instead, the victims knew the suspects.

That renews the call for caution about whom you befriend. It might help to check the background of a potential roommate or romantic interest. The website wcca.wicourts.gov, commonly called CCAP, is a good source of information on a person’s court history.

It’s tough to lump these incidents into one category. But the spread of heroin is cause for alarm, and drugs or alcohol played roles in some. For example, police suspect Cross met Courtney on Sunday to do drugs and drink. In their case against Byrd, police say they found him with prescription medicine belonging to Gilberg, along with anabolic steroids and needles.

The spate of tragedies raises questions about society and our support systems. Is this spree a sign of things to come? Are more families living in dysfunction and poverty, where parents work low-wage jobs while kids go unsupervised, if the parents work at all?

Police and social service agencies are trying. In Janesville, police return with a YWCA staffer in the days after each domestic violence incident to try to curb further problems.

Still, schools have reduced support staff amid budget cuts, and many educators would argue that at-risk children from dysfunctional homes lack sufficient help. Our mental health services and commitment laws fall far short of getting troubled people the help they need. Tuesday’s Gazette showed Courtney with “pure hate” tattooed across his chest. No one is born evil. How does a man get to that point? What brings someone to kill or try to kill?

These tragedies raise easy questions for grieving relatives and concerned residents. Unfortunately, answers—and solutions to problems—are harder to come by.

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