Weekend violence claims two more lives

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The deadly wave of violent crime that’s shaken Knoxville in recent months claimed two more lives over the weekend, raising this year’s number of homicides to 32. 

The two homicides occurred only days after local officials announced several measures they hope will eventually bring the bloodshed under control.

For the moment, however, nothing seems to be working. In fact, the pace of lethal violence on Knoxville’s streets has accelerated over the summer with one person now being killed per week on average. Such a toll is completely unprecedented in the city’s history, and there seems to be no reason to believe the violence has peaked.

The first of the weekend’s shooting deaths took place Friday night on an industrial side street in West Knoxville, authorities said.

The incident was reported about 8:20 p.m. Friday as “a shooting with a victim” at 1212 Hilton Road, according to Knoxville Police Department spokesperson Scott Erland. 

Police arrived to find a male victim suffering from at least one gunshot wound, Erland said. An ambulance rushed him to the University of Tennessee Medical Center, where he died shortly after midnight. 

“Based on the preliminary investigation, the victim and suspect were known to one another. All involved parties are accounted for, and no charges have been filed at this time,” he said.  

Authorities didn’t say exactly where the crime scene was. The street cuts north through a mainly industrial area off Middlebrook Pike, and the address given for the shooting belongs to a freight company. The Middlebrook Inn, a single-story residential motel, sits at the nearby intersection of Middlebrook and Hilton. 

No signs of violence were visible Saturday at the scene of a fatal shooting that took place overnight at this address on Hilton Road. Photo by J.J. Stambaugh

The second killing took place about 3:15 a.m. Sunday morning when a woman was gunned down in a drive-by shooting in East Knoxville.

The victim was identified as Aisha Cates, 43 of Knoxville, according to Erland. 

“KPD officers responded to the area of McConnell Street and MLK Jr. Avenue for a shooting with a victim. Upon arrival, a female victim was found unresponsive beside a vehicle and suffering from a gunshot wound,” Erland said.

Cates was taken to UT Medical Center where she was pronounced dead on arrival.

“Witnesses stated that an occupant of a vehicle of unknown make and model fired a shot and fled the area at a high rate of speed. No suspects have been identified and the investigation is ongoing at this time,” he continued.

Like most cities in the United States, Knoxville has struggled with rising violent crime rates over the past couple of years. 

Erin Gill, chief policy officer and deputy to Mayor Indya Kincannon, said last week there is widespread agreement among City officials that reducing the homicide rate is the most important issue they face right now.

The East Knoxville intersection where 43-year-old Aisha Cates was killed in a drive-by shooting early Sunday morning. Photo by J.J. Stambaugh

“Crime — especially violent crime — is the number one priority, and all the departments have a role to play,” she said “Mayor Kincannon has said from out of the gate that public safety is local government’s most basic responsibility, and if we’re not living up to the most basic responsibilities of government then what are we doing?”

The Kincannon administration has begun channeling money into the coffers of community organizations that try to keep young people away from gangs and violence. Also, KPD has responded in numerous ways, from increasing the number of investigators trained to work homicides to creating a new unit that deploys where crime rates are the highest. 

Kincannon’s administration also intends to take direct control of efforts to combat inner city violence, a big change from the original plan that called for the Louisville, Ky.-based nonprofit agency, Cities United, to call the shots. Instead, Cities United will play an advisory role while Kincannon creates a new, high-level position to oversee the many agencies and groups who are expected to form the front line of Knoxville’s anti-violence efforts.

None of these tactics, however, seem to have impacted the homicide rate.

There are several ways to look at the numbers, but they all paint the same grim picture: 2021 is on track to be the bloodiest year since Knoxville began keeping crime statistics.  

The unprecedented rise in the homicide rate began when the number of killings shot up from 22 in 2019 to 37 in 2020, a 72 percent increase. Prior to 2020, the bloodiest year on record had been when 35 people were killed in 1998.

Since Jan. 1, there have been at least 32 slayings in the city, plus at least five more homicides in the unincorporated areas of Knox County under the jurisdiction of the Sheriff’s Office. That’s a 46 percent increase from 2020, when 22 people had been killed as of August 23.

Erland said that anyone with information regarding Cates’s shooting is urged to contact Crime Stoppers by phone at 1-800-222-8477, online at www.easttnvalleycrimestoppers.org or via the P3 Tips mobile app. Tipsters will remain anonymous and are eligible to receive a cash reward. 

J.J. Stambaugh can be reached at jjstambaugh@hardknoxwire.com 

Published on August 23, 2021.