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Published: 8/11/2010

2 officers face questions over visit to slaying site

BY BRIDGET THARP
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Ybonne Blackwell says she misses seeing Cindy Sumner waving to her as she rode by on her bike. Ms. Blackwell hopes that the warehouse will be torn down in Ms. Sumner's 'loving memory.' Ybonne Blackwell says she misses seeing Cindy Sumner waving to her as she rode by on her bike. Ms. Blackwell hopes that the warehouse will be torn down in Ms. Sumner's 'loving memory.'
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Earlier this year, Mary Sumner, Ms. Sumner's mother, attended a vigil organized for Parents of Murdered Children. Cindy Sumner went missing a year ago Friday, and her loss is still keenly felt. Earlier this year, Mary Sumner, Ms. Sumner's mother, attended a vigil organized for Parents of Murdered Children. Cindy Sumner went missing a year ago Friday, and her loss is still keenly felt.
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Two Toledo police officers dispatched last year on reports of screaming at the warehouse where Cindy Sumner was later found dead now are under scrutiny for their visit to the site last August.

Officers Donald Nachtrab and Ronald L. Pribe are the subject of an internal investigation prompted by an information request by The Blade, Chief Mike Navarre said Friday.

“I became aware of it yesterday and I initiated an investigation to determine if the response was proper by the officers,” Chief Navarre told The Blade, adding later: “Just because we're looking into it doesn't mean there is any inference that they did anything wrong.”

Ms. Sumner, 21, was found dead in the basement of the vacant warehouse at 1510 Elm St. on Sept. 17 — six weeks after she was reported missing from her North Toledo home. Friday was the anniversary of her initial disappearance.

The call to police was prompted by a family walking in the area of

Elm and George the afternoon of Aug. 26 — three weeks after Ms. Sumner was reported missing and three weeks before her body was found. The family said they heard the sound of a woman screaming, according to an emergency responder who works in the area. He spoke to The Blade on the condition of anonymity.

“You're never going to prove it, but that's the day she died. If not, they were killing her,” he said.

Before the call, the emergency responder was on duty inside when he looked up at a security monitor and noticed that another employee outside on a smoke break was speaking to a group of people. When he joined his co-worker outside, the sound of a woman's cries were audible from the sidewalk, the emergency responder said.

“The people outside said, ‘Somebody's getting hurt in that building,'” he told The Blade, indicating the warehouse at 1510 Elm about a block away.

The two employees returned inside to call 911 on behalf of the family that first heard the screaming.

According to a recording of the 911 call provided by Toledo police Friday, the employee reported he “heard a bunch of people in there and heard somebody screaming. I don't know if there is anything to it or not.”

When the emergency responder returned outside, he heard the woman scream multiple times, he told The Blade.

Several minutes passed, and the two employees called police a second time before the crew of two officers rolled up in one cruiser to the intersection of Elm and Utica, he said.

“Police stopped and listened. They couldn't have been here two or three minutes,” the emergency responder said. “They never got out of the car.”

Records provided by the Toledo Police Department show that police arrived at 1:14 p.m. and were on the scene for five minutes, but the records do not indicate whether they left their vehicle or entered the warehouse.

Both officers were not on duty Friday for unrelated reasons and were unavailable for comment, Chief Navarre said. They could not be reached for comment at their homes.

Officer Nachtrab, a 22-year veteran on the force, received a professional service award in 2004. Officer Pribe, a 23-year veteran, received the award in 2005.

Chief Navarre said that police had never received reliable information that placed Ms. Sumner near the warehouse during the six weeks she was missing, and the responding officers had no indication that she could be inside.

“We had gotten a lot of information on her, and some of it was very credible. That she was alive, she was well, and that she left. I mean, we were convinced that she was in Florida,” Chief Navarre said of Ms. Sumner.

“And this case did get a lot of attention, by the way. I don't want you to think this one got lost. This one got a lot of attention. And a lot of resources,” the chief said.

The massive warehouse at 1510 Elm St. had been without a business tenant for years. But neighbors say the eyesore was far from empty before Ms. Sumner's killing; it attracted homeless people, teenage vandals, and drug users.

Built in 1927, the six-floor warehouse was the headquarters and coal yard of the Sam Davis Co., once the city's largest retail coal dealer as well as a major real-estate developer and apartment operator.

Sold in the mid-1960s, the property later was occupied by janitorial and industrial supply firms before its final tenant, Premier Bedding Co.

The labyrinthine interior, once said to have walnut-paneled walls, bronze chandeliers, and black marble countertops, long ago was stripped and gutted and left to the elements. Most windows are broken and some walls are covered in elaborate graffiti.

The property's owner is Select Properties Group LLC, registered in Florida. The firm's two listed managers, Frederick Clark and Harold O. Miller, either did not return messages this week or could not be reached.

A tax-foreclosure action was brought against the property last month by Lucas County and is pending in Lucas Common Pleas Court. The parcel is nearly $76,000 in arrears.

After Ms. Sumner was found, Toledo city workers spent nearly $5,000 in materials and manpower last fall securing the building with corrugated metal on order of a Toledo Municipal Court judge, Bob Mossing, the city's code enforcement manager, said.

Mr. Mossing said he spoke with one of the property's owners on the phone, Mr. Miller, who offered to “give it to the city.”

“The building is a nuisance,” Mr. Mossing said. “I'd like to demolish the thing if I could, but we'd have to have money and it would be pretty expensive.”

Demesha Walker, 28, lives closer than anyone to the abandoned building — which she has accepted as a “nuisance of a neighbor.”

“I hear everything that goes on in that building, from the kids playing to the brick throwing,” Ms. Walker said.

About a week of noise started a day or two before her newborn son came home with her from the hospital Aug. 20, she said.

Ms. Walker didn't call police right away. It was common to hear some activity inside the warehouse through the kitchen window of her second-floor apartment, which overlooks the same story of the abandoned building.

“It sounded like a person releasing frustration,” Ms. Walker said. “You know, you get angry and you kick something and ,‘Aargh!' It was more like anger, someone getting their frustration out.”

Within a few days, Ms. Walker said the commotion escalated to what sounded like a male shouting on the second floor and glass shattering into the alley below.

Though she cannot name the exact date, Ms. Walker said she called 911 to complain about the noise. She and her cousin said they watched from the balcony as a solo officer rolled through the alley under their window hours after their call.

The officer didn't stop the car or get out, Ms. Walker said.

There were no records of a 911 call from Ms. Walker's address in response to The Blade's Freedom of Information Act requests, Chief Navarre said.

A pungent, unknown odor emerged in the area before the end of August and lasted until Ms. Sumner was removed from the warehouse Sept. 17, neighbors said.

Toledo police found Ms. Sumner's body submerged in water inside the old boiler room of the warehouse's basement. The body was decomposed past the point of recognition — having lain there for as long as four or five weeks — and coroner officials couldn't discern if rape had occurred.

Ms. Sumner eventually was identified through dental records.

Coroner reports show that the body was found clothed in shorts and a Pennzoil T-shirt.

The death was ruled a homicide by at least two blows of “significant blunt-force trauma” to the head.

The suspect in the death, Elhadi Robbins, 45, and Ms. Sumner were acquaintances, police said. Police believed Robbins became infatuated with the young woman.

Robbins had served four months in prison in 2008 in Madison Correctional Institution for failure to notify as a sexual offender. He was released Jan. 1, 2009.

He was arrested for disorderly conduct Aug. 19 and held at the Lucas County jail, but was released by a federal court order the following day. Robbins was free until he was arrested again on Aug. 31 on a failure to notify charge.

He has pleaded not guilty in Ms. Sumner's death and appeared in Lucas County Common Pleas Court for a hearing this week.

Ms. Walker still wonders about what she had heard on those dates in August. She keeps the shades in her kitchen closed, and tries to avoid looking at the warehouse.

“Maybe there is something more we could have done,” Ms. Walker said. “I think if I would have bugged them more, I think they would have gone out.”

It's been a year since Ms. Sumner vanished, and the pain of the loss is still apparent among her neighbors and friends.

“I would say there's a hole in the north end without her,” said Pastor Mary Lou Baumgartner, the former head of Salem Lutheran Church, where Ms. Sumner was a member. “She was very present. She loved being out walking or on her bicycle. We would see her everywhere. And that's not true anymore.”

Ms. Sumner, who had muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, and learning disabilities, had the innocence of a child and collected new friends easily — sometimes trusting those new friends too easily, her family has said.

The family declined to be interviewed for this story.

Ms. Sumner first came to the church three years ago when she and her mother first frequented their weekly community dinners.

Ms. Sumner quickly found her place among the membership, Ms. Baumgartner said.

‘Very trusting'

“From what little we know there was certainly suffering involved, and I feel angry about that particularly because she had some handicapping conditions,” Ms. Baumgartner told The Blade by phone. She has relocated to lead a church in New Windsor, N.Y.

“In some ways it's more difficult because she was so vulnerable and she was very trusting, which was a beautiful thing about her.”

Ms. Sumner was last seen just days before her 21st birthday, riding her blue and white Huffy mountain bike, decorated with a teddy bear and a red flower on the handlebars.

Ybonne Blackwell, 26, who lives less than a block away from the warehouse on East Bancroft Street, said she misses seeing Ms. Sumner wave as she rolled by on her bicycle. She hopes the warehouse will be torn down and replaced with something better in tribute to Ms. Sumner.

“Tear that building down and do it in loving memory,” Ms. Blackwell said from her front stoop this week. “Put a garden there. Put a pool there. Something we ain't got over here. A playground, something for the kids.”

Monica Kennedy, 17, liked seeing Ms. Sumner ride her bicycle past her great-grandfather's house on Elm Street, which is across from the warehouse. Ms. Sumner often emerged from the alley beside the warehouse on her bicycle and would stop to chat, Ms. Kennedy, who also has cognitive disabilities, said.

“I liked mostly everything about her,” Ms. Kennedy said. “I'm sad because that's the only friend I had, to me.”

Staff writer JC Reindl contributed to this report.

Contact Bridget Tharp at:btharp@theblade.comor 419-724-6086.



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