MUNCIE, Ind. -- Delaware County sheriff's deputies arrested two men in separate drug cases on the same street in Muncie, within one week.
Ronnie Brown, who's known to deputies as a career drug dealer was arrested on dealing and possession of drug charges on August 11. Just five days later, and a few blocks away, Verdell Kelly was arrested for the same charges.
The area of 8th and 9th streets on Muncie's south side has been an area known for drug criminals and violence. Last year, 8-year-old Tyler Gordon was shot in the stomach in the same area by a stray bullet. The men allegedly responsible for the shooting fired shots along the street, hitting Gordon and spraying homes with bullets. The shooting happened just feet away from a nearby park.
Both Brown and Kelly's charges were enhanced to level five felonies, due to the crimes happening within 500 feet of Heekin Park.
The park also shares space with the Muncie Unity Center. Leaders have fought hard to keep the center a safe place and free from crime, but know the neighborhood surrounding the center has been a challenge for law enforcement.
"We've tried to make our presence known and the thing we need to do is communicate," said Carol Malone, program director for Muncie Unity Center.
On average, the center hosts hundreds of students for after school spots and programs. This summer, many students spent time in Heekin Park on the basketball and baseball courts. Malone said with the seasons changing, they're having conversations about how to make sure kids get to and from the center safely.
“We’re just trying to figure out a way to continue to make this particular neighborhood safe, especially the area surrounding the community center and boys and girls club. Our kids get on the bus here, 7:00 it gets dark, so just making sure they get to and from home," Malone said.
Malone said he believes criminals are moving into the neighborhood from other counties and states, thinking they can get away with drug crimes.
“Any new individuals moving into our neighborhood that’s not from our community, we want them out as soon as possible, as fast as possible," Malone said. “That’s pretty alarming when they can come outside our community and come inside our community and create not such a safe haven for our kids. It’s a big concern for everyday."
Unity Center leaders are planning to meet with the Muncie leaders and Delaware County officials within the next few weeks to form a game plan to keep kids safe in the neighborhood. They'll also be discussing ways to keep guns out of teens hands, a growing problem in the community and a priority for leaders at the Unity Center.