WILKES-BARRE — Her parents’ house on Gates Street is next door, yet Darla Carey doesn’t walk there by herself at night.
Car break-ins in her neighborhood, including her husband Dan’s, strangers passing by on the sidewalks and fear that crime has overrun the city have compelled her to take precautions for her safety and that of her family.
“We keep our porch lights on all night,” Carey said. On those nights when she walks the 20 feet from her front door to her parents’, she said, “Dan walks me over.”
Carey echoes what some other people have been saying about an increase in crime and the city administration’s apparent refusal to acknowledge and deal with it. In a David-and-Goliath moment last week, the diminutive mother of four grown children and a grandchild scolded Mayor Tom Leighton before a packed city council meeting for appearing not to care about the safety of the residents.
It wasn’t planned that way, Carey, 53, said Friday.
“I didn’t go with the intention of speaking,” she said.
Carey showed up for the city council meeting with a letter and was asked by a City Hall employee if she was going to address council. Undecided, she was handed a speaker’s form to fill out from the employee who told her to wave if she decided to speak.
“I was sitting there and I was very nervous. I thought I was not going to be able to move from the chair,” Carey said.
But that changed in an instant.
“A big sense of calm came over me and I didn’t care,” she said.
“I did it for the residents of the city,” Carey said of her speaking out. “It’s just getting out of hand.”
Her husband was painting their house and couldn’t accompany her to the meeting. Later, he assessed her comments this way: “You know, she said everything I was feeling.”
Deep W-B roots
His family’s history is connected to the city and Carey Avenue is named after his ancestors. He recently accompanied his wife and a family friend on a walk through their South Wilkes-Barre neighborhood to point out places where police have been and talk about the changes the area has undergone.
“My parents are the oldest people on the street now. I’m right after them,” said Darla Carey, a 29-year resident.
Trees shaded her one-way street between Carey Avenue and Carlisle Street. Meyers High School, Miner Park and Geisinger South Wilkes-Barre, formerly Mercy Hospital, are located nearby.
The neighborhood is made up mainly of single-family houses with a few apartment buildings mixed in. The front lawns are, for the most part, neatly kept. Red and purple petunias grew in pots at the foot of the front steps of a house across from the Careys’ residence.
The chrome of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle parked in front of a house reflected the morning sun. Decorative flags, one of them imprinted with “Spring into Summer,” hung from porches. A movable basketball hoop and backboard stood on the pavement farther up the block.
A police SWAT team converged on an apartment building toward the Carey Avenue intersection about two years ago, Carey said. The building continues to draw police and neighbors’ attention because of fights and noise, she added.
She and her husband identified other places: On nearby Sterling Street a woman was fatally shot in front of her son inside their apartment in December 2011. The residents of a building in the 300 block of Carey Avenue were kicked out and left behind a mess. On the next block, a double-block building has been vacant for years. The window of another residence on the avenue was shot out.
The recent report of people arrested for dealing heroin outside a store nearby on Hanover Street unnerved Carey.
“My mom is 83. She shops there. I won’t let her go up there anymore,” she said. “I’m afraid. I’m afraid for her.”
Two weeks ago a friend was driving on Old River Road near Miner Park and came upon a police car and an officer who asked for help, Carey recalled.
Two children were left inside a car parked on the street while the driver left to play basketball at the park, she said her friend told her. One of the children was “no more than a couple months old,” Carey said. The friend assisted the officer because “he had a hard time getting the children out of their car seats,” she said.
At times Carey sits on her front porch and sees strangers walking by.
“We don’t know the people,” she said. “It’s hard to trust them.”
It’s just as hard for her to have confidence in the mayor.
“He didn’t give me the sense that he cares,” Carey said.
She would be willing to work with him, but first she wants him to listen. She sent an email to mayor and was awaiting a response.
“I would like to sit down and talk with him,” Carey said. “I would like him to get an ordinary person’s view.”