After killings and gunfire, a Lake Worth community reveals fear, anger

10:55 a.m. Friday, Nov. 10, 2017 Local
PBSO investigators search for evidence after a Lake Worth resident found a dead man in his yard Oct. 30. The body, determined to be a shooting victim, was found around 6:50 a.m. at 10th Avenue South and H Street. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

John Oja moves slowly in his motorized wheelchair along the 500 block of South F Street in Lake Worth.

He doesn’t mind the leisurely pace. Oja, who recently had knee surgery, is just glad its daylight.

“It’s very dangerous around here,” said Oja, 62. “You hear gunshots at night. You don’t want to come into the neighborhood at night. There might be some gangs around here. I live in an assisted living facility and I stay inside at night to be safe.”

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Oja’s concerns are real.

In the past week and a half, two men have been killed in the area, just east of Interstate 95 spanning about a 1/2 mile radius south of the downtown area.

On Oct. 30, Lucio Velazques-Morales, 33, was found shot to death on the front lawn of a home on South H Street’s 1000 block just south of the intersection with 10th Avenue South. The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office said it is investigating the death as a murder and did not find a weapon at the scene.

On Sunday morning, a 25-year-old was found dead in the 400 block on South F Street. The man’s identity has not yet been released because authorities have not found his next of kin.

And on Thursday afternoon, the sherriff’s office responded to reports of shots fired near 10th Avenue South and South Dixie Highway. Neither a victim nor a suspect had been found. They did collect multiple shell casings from the scene, though the exact number is unclear.

The homicides were the 84th and 85th in Palm Beach County during this year and the fifth in Lake Worth, according to a Palm Beach Post database.

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Residents who live and work in the area appear a bit nervous.

Michael Ghrayeb, owner of All Import Car Repair on South H Street, said there are pockets of issues in the city.

“The sheriff’s department only cares if you’re on 6th Avenue North,” he said. “Anything south is less cared for. You see a lot of people walking the streets at night, lots of hookers. It’s like the south doesn’t exist.”

Todd Baer, sheriff’s office captain, said that is Ghrayeb’s opinion.

He declined to elaborate.

North of downtown, however, has also seen its share of problems this year. A man was shot and killed at 914 North F Street in June.

Ghrayeb said he’s been in business on South H Street for 25 years and although danger exists, he said his commercial street has been good.

“The shootings here, I don’t know,” he said. “I see them on TV, but I don’t know anything about them.”

Craig Frost, who owns Art of Noise, an audio video and upholstery store also on South H Street, said he heard about the South F Street shooting Wednesday.

“I was so irritated,” Frost said.

Like Ghrayeb, Frost said his commercial street is OK, but when you go a little west of the train tracks, there are huge problems.

“G Street and 10th Avenue is probably the worst part of the city in terms of gangs and shootings,” he said. “It’s almost a weekly thing where there is some kind of shooting or someone holding someone up.”

Frost said he hears and sees the sheriff’s office’s chopper weekly.

“It’s kind of a running joke now,” he said. “People are saying, ‘It’s Lake Worth’s bird in the sky.’ We hear about it all the time, we see it on Facebook.”

To protect his business, Frost said he has an alarm and cameras in the front. He said he also depends on fellow business owners.

“We’re a tight-nit community and have been for a long time,” he said.

Meanwhile the owner of Kwik Stop Food Stores on the corner of South F Street and 6th Avenue South, called the neighborhood quiet.

“The people who come here are nice,” said the man, who didn’t give his name.

But he added that after the shooting on Sunday, sheriff’s office’s detectives came to the store and looked at store surveillance camera video.

Oja said a lot of people hang out at the store, a fact he doesn’t like.

“I just don’t go out at night,” he said, scooting down the street…in the sunlight.