Gunshots at bar revive safety issues

Chris Smith was upstairs in a VIP area when he heard the seven gunshots and a bullet ricochet near him early Sunday inside Last Call, 729 N.H.

He didn’t see what led to the shots being fired, but he has a theory.

“Only thing I can think of is the same thing that’s every week: You’ve got people from different cities in Kansas. You’ve got people from Kansas City that represent one gang, and you’ve got people from Topeka that represent one gang,” said Smith, 29, of Topeka, who was at the club taking pictures for a photography business. “All these people are different gangs, different nationalities. : When they’re drunk and they’re all in there throwing gang signs up and the songs are promoting violence, that’s usually what happens.”

No one was injured in the early-morning shooting, which caused an estimated 200 people to flee into the street. But it’s the latest in a string of violent incidents related to downtown Lawrence nightclubs, and Smith said city leaders “should definitely not turn their head” on the issue.

“The more you’ve got out-of-towners coming, when they come they bring their attitude with them,” he said. “It doesn’t mix when you’ve got a nice setting like Lawrence, how it normally is. When they have these parties, they’re broadcasting them to everyone because they’re trying to get the dollars.

“I’ve been going to Lawrence for a while, and I’ve never had problems until the past year.”

An officer was on routine patrol about 2 a.m. Sunday when he heard what sounded like gunshots in the club and went to investigate. Police said they recovered seven shell casings in all. They interviewed witnesses but weren’t able to find a suspect.

“Seven shots fired inside a bar? It is a miracle nobody got hurt,” City Commissioner Sue Hack said.

Since the beginning of the year, guns have repeatedly been found in parking lots near Last Call. Brawls also have erupted at Abe & Jake’s Landing, 8 E. Sixth St., and a February shooting outside the Granada, 1020 Mass., left one man dead.

The city recently approved a change to make its ordinance prohibiting guns near bars more specific, but Hack said city employees were looking to see what else could be done.

“I think we’ve got to take a stronger look at protecting our citizens and those who call Lawrence home for whatever period of time they’re here,” she said.

Dennis Steffes, owner of Last Call, did not return phone calls Monday seeking comment. He previously has said security inside the club is top-notch and that he wasn’t responsible for what people do on the way to or from his club.

Smith said he’d observed that people who come to the club early in the night are not subject to rigorous searches on their way in, as are those who arrive after 10 p.m. or so. He said he suspected the shooter in Sunday’s incident had come to the club early.

Asked for his opinion about the security situation at Last Call, Mayor Mike Amyx said, “I think we need to talk about downtown as a whole.”

Of the shooting, he said, “This just can’t be tolerated.”

LaTonia Coleman, widow of Robert Earl Williams, who was killed in February outside the Granada, has called for the city to impose stricter regulations that require stronger security at larger nightclubs.

“The security has to be improved. There’s no way around it,” she said Monday. “It’s gotten out of hand.”