What began as a nearly overlooked drug transaction inside a small, cramped West Toledo bar turned into a vicious exchange of gunfire that sent patrons fleeing the establishment and police looking for the gunmen, authorities said.
No one was injured during the shooting at 11:57 p.m. Thursday at the Route 66 Kitchen, 406 North Westwood Ave.
But images taken from the bar's video surveillance system and released yesterday by police show a graphic scene of violence that unfolded over several minutes and involved at least five gunmen.
“It seemed to be an incredible act of stupidity,” Sgt. Tim Noble said. “There was not one thought by these people about their actions or the possible consequences.”
On Westwood between Nebraska and Hill avenues, the bar is within blocks of the University of Toledo's Scott Park Campus and the police department's Scott Park substation.
Police are trying to decipher what transpired inside the bar just before the eruption of gunfire. As of yesterday, the five suspected shooters had not been identified.
Deputy Chief Don Kenney said the incident appeared to begin when one suspect attempted to sell marijuana. He said that a bar employee, who acted as security, told the man to leave. That initial interaction led to a fistfight.
Soon after, guns were drawn and fired. In general, guns are not allowed to be brought into bars in Ohio.
Police found 17 shell casings at the site but believe at least 20 shots were fired because one of the men had a revolver, which does not eject shell casings. Eight bullet holes could be seen in the bar's metal door yesterday.
Police crews responding to the bar late Thursday reported that they sealed off the crime scene and located the shell casings, which were protected until detectives arrived. Several witnesses were interviewed about the incident, however, none could reached for comment.
Chief Kenney said the video was given to detectives in the vice narcotics unit as well as in the gang task force to see if any of the suspects were known to police.
The video was also given to the media in hopes someone may recognize the suspects.
The chief added that although no additional crews were called in to patrol the area yesterday, street patrols were made aware of the incident and were watching the district.
The bar, which advertises its use of video surveillance with a large sign near the door, has typically not been the site of any trouble, Chief Kenney said. He said that although the vivid display of violence was not usual for the commercial district where the bar is located, guns are an unfortunate reality.
“Toledo is no different than any city of our size. We have shots fired on a daily basis,” Chief Kenney said. “It's out there; it does happen. [People] are not always aware of it outside of the police department.
“My advice is, no matter where you're at, be aware of your surroundings and what's going on,” he added.
The bar is owned by Toledoan Garry Hitts, who is also president of the Dar-Char Corp. that owns the liquor permit. Mr. Hitts did not return phone calls yesterday.
Despite the events of the previous evening, the Route 66 Kitchen was busy early last night. More than two dozen patrons gathered around the bar or at tables, sipping beer and tall mixed drinks. Three overhead televisions showed baseball games and loud rhythm and blues music blared from a jukebox.
Most inside appeared to be aware of the shootout but were largely unconcerned. Some laughed about seeing their bar on the TV news.
“If it happened all the time, do you think people would still be here?” said one 40-year-old man who goes by the name of Cheezy. “That right there was a fluke.”
Another man blamed the incident on a tough, younger crowd that apparently was in the bar Thursday night. The 38-year-old said that older patrons such as himself populate the bar during the day and early evening hours, and the clientele generally gets younger as the hours go by.
“That's a whole different crowd — you got the Wild, Wild West,” said the man, who would not give his name. “There was just a bad bunch who came through here last night.”
A barmaid said the bar planned to close early last night, by 8 p.m., but she would not explain why.
The bar's liquor permits were first issued in 1980, and the bar has had two citations, according to Matt Mullins, spokesman for the Ohio Division of Liquor Control.
The citations were in 1982 and involved illegal possession of gambling tickets. The Ohio Liquor Control Commission imposed a three-day suspension of the permit.
Although the shooting incident occurred near the University of Toledo campus, UT and Toledo police do not believe any students were involved.
UT Police Chief Jeff Newton said the university police department “is standing by” to assist “should there turn out to be any evidence of student involvement in this incident.”
“While we have no reason to believe that any of our students were involved, the scene illustrates the very real danger that inappropriately mixing alcohol and firearms can create,” he said.
“We encourage all our students to constantly be aware of their surroundings and make choices that will keep them out of harm's way.”
Police described the suspects as black men, each of varying height and weight. No age estimates were given.
One man, who police believe was a shooter, was 5-foot, 11-inches tall and 240 pounds, and wearing blue jeans and a plaid, light blue shirt.
Another man who police say was outside the bar shooting was described as 5-foot, 9-inches and 150 pounds. He was wearing sweat pants and a red hooded sweatshirt.
Descriptions of other suspected shooters include:
•5-foot, 11-inches tall, 175 pounds, black hat, gray sweat pants, gray sweatshirt.
•5-foot, 7-inches tall, 150 pounds, black hat, gray hooded sweatshirt, black pants.
•5-foot, 11-inches tall, 300 pounds, white collared shirt, light pants.
Chief Kenney said that charges would be determined after the men are identified and their roles in the incident made clear.
“Once this case is fully investigated, we'll have a clearer picture of what happened,” he said.
Anyone with information about the shooting is asked to call Crime Stopper at 419-255-1111 or the investigative bureau at 419-245-3142.
Staff writers Tom Troy, Meghan Gilbert-Cunningham, and JC Reindl contributed to this report.