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The Journal Gazette

  • Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette In the past three years, police have been called 176 times to Sports and Spirits Bar and Grill at Wayne Street and Anthony Boulevard.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016 10:06 pm

Troubled bar closing after triple homicide

Frank Gray | The Journal Gazette

The bar where three people were shot to death and two others injured Tuesday morning is closing, nearly two years after the owners first appealed the local alcoholic beverage board’s refusal to renew its permit.

The lawyer for Burke and Craig Baughman, the owners of Sports and Spirits Bar and Grill at 1723 E. Wayne St., released a copy of a letter sent to the Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission on Tuesday afternoon, surrendering the liquor permit and placing it in escrow. The letter also announced that the bar had no plans to reopen.

The lawyer issued a statement from Burke Baughman saying: "We are saddened by the tragic events that occurred at Sports and Spirits. Our hearts go out to the families of the victims." The statement also said the bar’s owners are cooperating with authorities.

Tuesday afternoon, a representative of the Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission inspected the bar and took the bar’s license off the wall.

The closing marks the final chapter in a long effort by neighbors and police to have the bar closed.

People first objected to renewing the bar’s liquor permit in 2012, but the license was renewed.

Two years later, 13 parties, including the Fort Wayne Police Department, Indiana Tech and neighbors, asked that the bar’s liquor permit not be renewed. Complaints included violence, gunfire and various other criminal activity.

They cited incidents in which shots were fired, but when police arrived the bartender locked the door and wouldn’t let them in.

Investigators also reported drug dealing in the parking lot and reports by a confidential informant of the sale of marijuana inside the bar, bags of marijuana in plain site on the bar, and security personnel smoking marijuana in the bar.

Officials from nearby Indiana Tech reported a shot that had been fired into a dorm room that lodged in a door frame.

The holes left by the bullet indicated it may have come from the bar’s parking lot.

Meanwhile, there were numerous other reports of shots fired there, including a Christmas Day shooting in 2013 that hurt two, nearly killing one of them.

In 2014, the Allen County Alcoholic Beverage Board voted to deny renewal of the bar’s license, but the bar appealed. The owners were unanimously denied once again in August 2015 by the Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission, but the owners appealed again.

Two months ago, Allen Superior Court Judge David J. Avery upheld the state commission’s refusal to renew the liquor permit.

The owners had also appealed that decision just last month.

Capt. Kevin Hunter of the police department’s vice and narcotics unit expressed his pleasure last year when the state’s Alcohol and Tobacco Commission revoked the bar’s license, but the bar never did close because the owners kept appealing.

Outside the bar Tuesday afternoon, Hunter expressed his regrets. Police were called to the bar 135 times in less than two years up until August 2015.

Police were called 41 times since last September.

"The bar was a problem for the police department. It was an even bigger problem for the neighborhood," Hunter said.

"We had hoped the bar would have closed a long time ago," he said. "We tried hard to have it closed.

"Unfortunately it took this."

fgray@jg.net