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Monday, August 28, 2000 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Tacoma shaken by fatal mugging

Seattle Times staff reporter

Countless times, Erik Toews walked the 10 blocks from the coffee shop where he worked to his home near Wright Park in Tacoma without a problem.

So after the 30-year-old man died Friday from injuries sustained in a late-night mugging, his friends organized a march on the same route in his memory.

"We're trying to make a statement that we're taking the streets back, letting people know how many people cared about Erik," said a friend, Jesse Kimmerling.

Police say the incident was one of at least 10 late-night muggings in the area since late July that they hadn't notified the public about. They suspect a group of youths between 12 and 15 years old.

Police have not said whether the attacks are related nor did they say why they did not release information about the attacks sooner.

Friends and neighbors of Toews planned to march last night in a candlelight vigil from The Usual Coffee & News to the street corner where he was attacked. Toews, who had been in a coma since the Aug. 19 incident, died Friday at St. Joseph Medical Center in Tacoma.

"Erik wasn't the first one beaten; he was just the worst one beaten," said his mother, Colleen Cornell.

Cornell and Toews' friends said they did not hear of any late-night assaults in the area until Toews was attacked. By then, it was too late, said Kimmerling, who worked with Toews at his second job, at the Tukwila Relax the Back Store.

"I actually offered him a ride that night and he didn't take it," Kimmerling said. "He didn't know that there was a rash of violence in the area at night. A little bit of information to the community could have prevented this."

Toews' friends have taken it upon themselves to spread that information, printing and distributing 1,500 fliers about the incident, Kimmerling said. They have also been offering each other rides and discouraging people from walking alone at night.

Fred Boyd, owner of the Relax the Back Store, said the incident shattered his sense of security walking the street.

"This was something that could happen easily to anyone in any urban area; random, nontargeted evil," Boyd said. "It could as easily have been me."

Detectives think the attackers target men walking alone on quiet streets northwest of downtown, said Tacoma police spokesman Jim Mattheis. Several of the attacks have occurred near Wright Park and Tacoma General Hospital. All occurred on lighted sidewalks.

The motive for most attacks appears to be robbery, though nothing was taken from Toews and at least four other victims, Mattheis said.

Last year, Toews moved to Lynnwood to care for his father, who was dying of cancer, his mother said. He later moved back to Tacoma to care for Cornell after she injured her ankle and was unable to work.

Cornell said Toews worked the two jobs in order to support her and one of his two brothers.

Boyd, his boss, said Toews was caring and empathetic. "Those were Erik's strong points," he said.

Over the years, Toews sought different experiences throughout the country. He lived and worked in New York City, Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio, holding various jobs. His next adventure was a visit to a friend working in Thailand, Cornell said.

"He was a young man with a young man's dreams," she said.

Toews loved music and when he was younger, he played guitar and sang with bands in Tacoma. Kimmerling said several Tacoma bands are planning benefit concerts to relieve the family's expenses.

His friends also have set up an account at Washington Mutual Bank for donations to help the family. Contributions can be made at any Washington Mutual branch.

Funeral arrangements have not yet been made, and Cornell said that money is the least of her concerns.

"If those children were robbing him, he would have given them just about everything," she said. "He was a wonderful young man who I don't think was ever in a fight in his life."

Frank Vinluan's phone: 206-464-2291. E-mail: fvinluan@seattletimes.com.

Copyright (c) 2000 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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