Homicide in parking garage shakes Stadium District residents

Staff writerSeptember 5, 2013 

Last weekend’s killing in the supposedly secure parking garage of a high-end condominium complex in Tacoma’s Stadium District has shaken residents throughout the neighborhood.

Lawrence Howse was killed inside the private garage of the Sky Terrace condominium building, a fortress-like structure built on a steep hillside that drops from Broadway to Stadium Way. 

The eight-story concrete building is characterized by its sweeping views of Mount Rainier and Commencement Bay, and by its rooftop swimming pool, advertised as the only one in the city.

The walk-up entrance to Sky Terrace resembles a moat with a bridge that ends at a locked door and a card-key reader. The building’s foundation and tall cyclone fencing topped with barbed wire block access from the sides.

Access to the parking level entrance on Stadium Way is possible only through a retractable steel mesh gate operated by remote transmitters or by punching a security code on a keypad. 

Yet on Saturday night, when Howse, 54, drove his black BMW into the garage, two men apparently slipped in behind him as the gate was closing.  Howse was shot and killed in what police called “a robbery that went wrong.”

This week, residents of similarly protected apartments and condominiums in the area were making sure security doors close behind them, checking back seats when they get in their cars and giving long looks to strangers.

Juliana Brisbois, 23, who lives just down the street at the Broadmoor Apartments, said she moved to the Stadium District because she believed it was safe.

 “We could have gotten a place for $200 or $300 less somewhere else,” she said. “We chose to move here instead of somewhere where it wouldn’t have been as secure. Now I don’t feel safe.”

Saturday night’s killing has made her more cautious, Brisbois said.

She has started paying more attention when neighbors prop security doors open when they go out for a smoke. Even with the best precautions, she said, there are opportunities for “transient people” to slip inside.

Recently, Brisbois said, one of her neighbors surprised a thief rummaging through tenants’ clothing in the laundry room.

“It’s scary because you don’t think you have to worry about it in places like this, but apparently you do,” she said.

One of Howse’s neighbors at the Sky Terrace, a 33-year-old woman who said her parking space is directly adjacent to the one where Howse was killed, said she and other residents are frightened despite all the security measures.

Managers of the complex were not immediately reachable for comment Thursday.

“I’m obviously scared, especially having a baby,” said the woman, who asked to be identified only by her first name, Kara. “It could just as easily have been me.

“It’s pretty scary to think you’re secure and then find out that you’re not,” she said.

Kara said building managers at the Sky Terrace sent a letter to all owners, outlining the situation and urging caution.

Tacoma police spokeswoman Loretta Cool said taking precautions is always a good idea, but Saturday’s crime was highly unusual and apparently random.

“In that particular place and area, they don’t have this type of crime,” Cool said.

Slipping under security gates as they are closing is a staple of action movies but a very unusual tactic for criminals, Cool said.

“I don’t remember any situations like this before,” she said. “I would think because of the movies and stuff it would happen quite a bit, but we don’t get a lot of those reports.”

The men robbed Howse, Cool said, but investigators have not revealed specifically what they took. So far, she said, police have not managed to identify any suspects.

“We’re still asking for tips,” she said, “We’re hoping that if anybody saw anything unusual around that time, they’ll call and let us know.”

Police describe the suspects as black men in their late teens or early 20s with average builds. One had a light complexion and was wearing a white shirt and dark pants, they said, and the other was wearing a dark shirt and dark pants.

For people concerned about the possibility of crime in secured garages, Cool had this advice: “Always be observant both entering and exiting. If you see someone enter through the gate, notify the appropriate people.

“If you see someone you do not recognize outside of your car, if possible, drive away. Call immediately if you sense danger.”

Brisbois said she already takes those precautions. She would like to see better security measures by apartment managers, but she said she knows there’s a limit to what can be done.

“People who are degenerates or who are just bad people will find a way in,” she said.

Rob Carson: 253-597-8693

rob.carson@thenewstribune.com

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