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Drugs-violence problem begs for a solution EDWARD LEWIS OPINION

Aaron Baxter didn’t deserve to die. He should have been locked up and given the chance to redeem his life.

A Luzerne County judge in November issued an arrest warrant for the 23-year old when he failed to appear for a preliminary hearing, a court document states.

Wilkes-Barre police had arrested Baxter last summer when the manager at Sherman Hills reported an intruder in an apartment inside Building 332.

Baxter was found inside the apartment, along with heroin and a gun, arrest records say. He didn’t show for the preliminary hearing to determine if drug-related charges should be settled in Luzerne County Court.

If proper procedure was followed, the judge’s warrant would have been issued in the National Crime Information Center’s database of criminals that would permit any law enforcement officer to detain him.

But Baxter was never captured.

Unfortunately, investigators suspect Baxter was gunned down Thursday night during a botched drug buy in the same building at Sherman Hills.

According to a few Sherman Hills tenants, Baxter had been staying in Apartment 820 in Building 332. He was killed just a few feet from where he slept.

“He was a good guy, he didn’t deserve it,” said Sherman Hills tenant Thomas Smith, 19.

Smith said that Baxter helped Smith’s mother take out the trash, carried her laundry basket down to the basement and helped carry groceries up two flights of stairs – all good deeds pointing to Baxter’s character.

While talking to Smith next to where Baxter’s body was found and where police recovered bullet fragments from inside a wall, I asked if the bullet holes in a door were from Thursday night.

“Oh no, that’s from another shooting,” Smith said at ease.

Arrests plague Sherman Hills

Interviewing other Sherman Hills tenants, it quickly became clear that violence and drugs in the complex is rampant.

Numerous arrest and court documents support their opinions.

But Luzerne County District Attorney Jacqueline Musto Carroll said violence isn’t just contained to Sherman Hills, but throughout Northeastern Pennsylvania. A common denominator that leads to such violence is the drug trade, she said.

“There are a lot of violent crimes, shootings and killings, and it’s something that we’re not used to here. Unfortunately, we’re becoming used to hearing about it,” Musto Carroll said. “The drug trade is here and it is something that’s going to have to be addressed very vigorously.”

“It’s crazy around here, it’s nuts,” Sherman Hills tenant Amanda Wolfe said on Friday. “There are a lot of drug dealers around here. It’s not a good place to raise your children.”

“I feel like I haven’t moved from no violence, because I moved from Newark (N.J.) to get away from the violence there,” another Sherman Hills tenant, Hassan Lindsay, 21, said. “I just moved here three weeks ago. It’s like the same thing right here. I don’t feel safe anymore.”

“They need to close Sherman Hills down, relocate everybody. At least try to stop most of the people from moving in,” Smith said.

What officials in power need to do is put more undercover drug officers on the street. And perhaps, state officials in Harrisburg can agree to pay for a new prison or two designed to rehabilitate drug dealers and addicts.

After all, if there isn’t a market for drugs, then Sherman Hills and Northeastern Pennsylvania would be a safe place to raise children.

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