Three people received gunshot wounds at Venom nightclub early Saturday morning at approximately 2:45 a.m.
HUNTINGTON,WV -- A shooting that injured three at a downtown nightclub over the weekend puts a light on a city problem that needs resolution, according to one city official.
Two students from West Virginia State University and a 20-year-old woman from South Point, Ohio, were injured during a 2:45 a.m. shooting Saturday at Club Venom in the 1100 block of 4th Avenue in Huntington. Robert Turbeville, a sophomore linebacker for the Yellowjackets football team, remained hospitalized in fair condition Monday. Darin Draine, 22, of Institute, W.Va., and Kaitlin Marcum, 20, of South Point, Ohio, were treated and released Saturday.
As of Monday afternoon, no arrests had been made in connection with the shooting. The suspect is described as a light skinned black male, between 5-feet-8-inches and 5-feet-10-inches tall and weighs between 140 to 160 pounds. He was wearing a white polo-type shirt with dreadlocks in his hair.
The shooting is the latest example of nightclub violence, which City Councilman Mark Bates said Monday needs to be addressed by city officials. Bates said the city has been "stagnant" in its response to nightclub violence since a similar shooting injured three and led to police killing one at Club Babylon in November 2009. Club Babylon was located in the 800 block of 4th Avenue.
After that shooting, city officials revived talk of a possible bar moratorium in the downtown area, but dropped the idea after the city attorney said state law prohibited the city from doing that.
"The problem is not going to go away, and we've got to do something about it," Bates said. "I really think we need some leadership on this from the administrative point of view. They are going to have to step in and try to do this. I don't think council can do this all on our own."
Bates asked Huntington Mayor Kim Wolfe and his administration for help in revisiting the idea of some kind of bar moratorium during the council's Monday night meeting. Wolfe did not comment on the bar moratorium issue during the meeting.
Huntington Police Sgt. John Williams said officers believed Saturday morning's gunshots followed a slight altercation on the dance floor. Detectives had received very little information as of Monday morning. Anyone with information should contact 304-696-4420.
Draine and Turbeville traveled to Huntington separately, but Draine said they were among a group of West Virginia State students celebrating at the club.
Draine believed he was the intended target of the shooting. He was walking to the side of the dance floor when another man approached. Draine recalled that person said, "My boys are in here." Draine asked, "What does that mean?" to which the man responded, "Get your boys, and calm them down."
Draine said he shoved the other man once that person got into his face. Draine said the other man then recovered his balance, grabbed a gun from his waist and fired.
Marcum was standing at the back of the nightclub when the sound of gunfire reaffirmed her concern about going to clubs downtown. The frequency of her visits had slowed with news reports of violence in the area. She made an exception for her friend's birthday, which was unrelated to the West Virginia State gathering.
"I heard boom, boom, boom, and I just started running," she said. "I wasn't even involved. I didn't know anything that was going on. I was just an innocent person."
The Huntington Police Department has increased its presence in the area on busy nights. It also attends an annual meeting with bar owners to discuss safety and compliance. Talk also has included placing surveillance cameras along 4th Avenue.
High-profile incidents at Club Babylon and Club Venom follow a July 2008 shooting that took the life of former Marshall University football player Donte Newsome. Those shots were fired outside of Fluid, then located in the 600 block of 4th Avenue.
Bates said he recognized problems are isolated to a minority of nightclubs, but he said violence at those establishments can tarnish the public's view of safety downtown.
Bates and Marcum both spoke of a need for increased security measures. Bates said he could support requiring nightclubs with a certain occupancy to use metal detectors or wands to check people for guns before they enter a club. Marcum noticed men were patted down this past weekend as they entered Club Venom, but the women were not.
"They need metal detectors everywhere," she said. "It would prevent this from happening."
Williams agreed. He was unsure how the gun involved in Saturday's shooting passed by security, but he said clubs choosing to take preventative action must apply it to every customer to enhance effectiveness.
"If you have a flaw in the system, surely somebody is going to take advantage of that flaw to get (a gun) in if they really want," he said. "There is just an element that will be present in a bar in any situation, add alcohol and that compounds the problem ... You've just got to be aware of where trouble happens and guide yourself accordingly."
Club Venom owner John Dave Flowers did not return a telephone message seeking comment Monday, but state spokesman Gig Robinson said Flowers immediately surrendered the club's license to serve alcohol. The state Alcohol Beverage Control Administration will follow with an administrative investigation, Robinson said.
The spokesman said having an alcohol license is a privilege given to applicants, who pass background checks and satisfy other requirements of state code. Approved establishments are presumed safe until something occurs, such as a shooting.
That is when the ABCA suspends the club's license to investigate whether the licensee or its employees were connected to the event, escalated the situation or could have done anything to prevent it from happening. Any reinstated license often includes an improvement plan, some of which include agreements to improve lighting and use metal detectors. Otherwise, Robinson said the ABCA has no legal authority to require such preventative action.
Robinson estimates those licensed to serve alcohol in West Virginia employ 40,000 people. Those people work at hotels, restaurants, nightclubs and other establishments adding to the economic vitality of the state.
"We need to be very careful not to punish all licensees because of the misfortune or incident occurring at one," he said.
Williams said solving such crimes depends on available information. He estimated five of the 100 patrons from Saturday provided information. He called that "poor." He said many people do not feel a civic obligation to give police information.
"We don't have a crystal ball," he said. "Not only does it put others at risk when these people aren't taken off the street, but sometimes individuals who do this are involved in a number of shootings."
The ABCA database listed Club Venom by its former name, Freaky Tiki, upon review Monday. Robinson said establishments are supposed to update any change in name. He called this instance to be uncommon.