The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

March 25, 2013

Judge hears testimony on city bar

Edder’s Den decision expected soon

Kathy Mellott
kmellott@tribdem.com

EBENSBURG — A Cambria County judge heard more than three hours of testimony Monday regarding an embattled bar in Johnstown’s Oakhurst neighborhood and told both sides to stay tuned.

Cambria County President Judge Timothy Creany said his decision on the future of the bar will be made over the next few days and will be available Thursday.

Meanwhile, the doors of Edder’s Den, 534 Sheridan St., will remain padlocked with the only key in the hands of Cambria County Sheriff Bob Kolar.

Creany did agree to allow Edder’s Den owner Edward Gawel, under escort of sheriff’s deputies, to go into the building to take care of the furnace.

On Thursday, Creany ordered the sheriff to padlock the doors on the bar until he could take testimony from both sides.

The padlocking, done late Thursday, followed a civil lawsuit filed by Cambria County District Attorney Kelly Callihan asking the court to step in because of increasing violence around the bar or incidents that start at the establishment and are resumed elsewhere.

Most notorious was the October 2011 shooting death of

J-Quan Lewis, a New York native who was shot execution style the day following a fight at Edder’s Den.

Testimony Monday from police officers and residents of Oakhurst Homes portrayed the bar as an ongoing source of fighting and violence, leaving many fearful.

Gawel, 69, of Lower Yoder Township, has owned the bar since 1983 and only in recent years has had problems with patrons who become violent.

A number of Johns-

town police officers testified about repeated calls to break up fights in the bar parking lot, portraying the establishment as one that takes up a disproportionate amount of the time the department has for the whole city.

Also taking the stand were a number of residents who told Creany they are fearful because of the ongoing fighting and occasional times shots are fired outside the bar, which sits at the end of the Oakhurst Homes.

The testimony was offered to support concerns outlined by Callihan in the lawsuit that the operation of the bar creates an unsafe public condition by causing residents living around it to fear for their public safety.

Fear, as a result of the violence,  is such that many residents interviewed as part of a recent investigation declined to give their names out of fear of retaliation, Callihan said in court documents

The Rev. Lloyd King testified that things have gotten out of control and that ongoing contention between patrons of Edder’s Den is disruptive for him and his family.

“It’s the noise, the beer bottles, the endless fights outside, the shootings in the parking lot and trash everywhere,” King testified. “I can sit on my porch and hear fights. There are beer bottles in my hedges.”

In responding to questions from Cambria County Deputy District Attorney Scott Lilly, King said his home is 200 to 300 feet diagonally across the street from the bar.

King, who said he has been in the bar once – to retrieve a man who was to be working his house – said in cross examination by attorney David Weaver, representing Gawel, that the disturbing noise is from outside Edder’s Den.

Also, he conceded, noises and music can be heard from vehicles on Sheridan Street.

In the lawsuit, Callihan lists 68 times the Johnstown Police Department has been called to the bar between June 30, 2010, and Dec. 31, 2012, including 20 times for assaults and fights and three times for shots fired.

Callihan’s position, which was repeated Monday by Lilly, is that the bar is operated in a manner that creates an unsafe public condition by unnecessarily draining manpower and resources from the police department.

One woman who lives across from the bar testified she has called police 18 times in recent years, mostly to report fighting and loud noise.

Johnstown police Detective Lawrence Wagner outlined the circumstances of the Lewis murder and what is viewed as a direct link to Edder’s Den.

In cross-examination of Wagner, Weaver said the men were chased out of the bar and the shooting occurred the next day in a different location.

“It had nothing to do with Edder’s Den, correct?” Weaver questioned.

“No,” said Wagner. “It started in the bar.”

City police Sgt. Gerald Stofko testified to the numerous times he has been called to the bar to break up fights in the parking lot, including one involving 10 to 15 people – and no one willing to give a statement.

In response to questioning by Weaver regarding other bars in the Oakhurst area, Stofko said there is one about a quarter of a mile from Edder’s Den.

“I assumed they came from Edder’s Den. That’s where the people are,” Stofko said.

Gawel testified that he has an outside light shining on the parking lot, an inside camera monitoring and he walks outside as often as hourly to make sure patrons are not getting out of control.

He also limits liquor sales to intoxicated patrons, does not allow open containers to leave the building and enforces a patron ban list, kicking out those who caused problems in the past of the past.

Gawel told the court that he has noticed a decline in the neighborhood and the clientele at his bar over the past six or seven years.

Edder’s Den has been frequently visited by officers of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, testified enforcement officer William Bell.

“This is the fourth investigation I’ve been involved in at this bar,” Bell said.

 

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