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Building where shooting took place not authorized as after-hours establishment

Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify that  HAA LLC owns buildings occupied by local businesses, but does not own those businesses. 

WATERLOO — Years before an unlicensed after-hours club became the scene of one of the largest shootings in Waterloo history, the establishment at the corner of West Fourth and Washington streets was known as a local watering hole.

From the Press Box in the 1980s, famous for its pizza, to Benjamin’s Pub to Barney’s, the spot at 501 W. Fourth St. was a fixture of the community.

That changed when the bar — half of the ground floor of a two-story building that includes a tattoo parlor and upstairs apartments — stopped operating in early 2013 and its liquor license lapsed. A new operator tried to re-launch the corner as Club Phyre but wasn’t able to obtain a liquor license because of zoning changes. The changes aimed to curtail the proliferation of businesses selling and serving alcohol in the neighborhood.

It was a pipe shop for a few months and then leased out to a motorcycle club for a private gathering place. The location, built in 1913, suddenly left the public eye.

The private space held around 100 people Sept. 26 when a shooting broke out in early morning hours, leaving two people dead and several injured. The site was not licensed by the city to operate as an after-hours establishment.

Neighbors at the building’s tattoo shop and residential apartments told The Courier they heard loud music at late hours in recent months. Fire department and building officials said they thought the property was vacant.

“I wouldn’t know what activity is going on in a lot of buildings in town I guess,” Waterloo Fire Rescue Chief Pat Treloar said.

City Clerk’s Office representative LeAnn Even said she is not aware of any citations, fines or other penalties previously issued against the owners or tenants.

After-hours establishments in Waterloo are supposed to submit applications, undergo police investigations, receive inspections from fire, building and health officials, and then receive City Council approval, according to Waterloo’s city code. The license comes with a $350 yearly fee, and it allows businesses to let patrons bring their own alcohol to drink. After-hours businesses can operate from midnight until 6 a.m., city code says.

City code also states that people who own or engage in unlicensed activity can face up to $625 in fines and up to 30 days in jail. Code enforcement officers, police officers, fire inspectors or building officials can issue citations depending on the nature of violations, said Major Joe Leibold at the Waterloo Police Department.

In June, police cited the owner of an Edwards Street building for after-hours violations following a string of shootings connected with parties on the property that injured three people — including one man who was later killed in the September private club shooting.

There are currently no after-hours businesses licensed in Waterloo, according to the Clerk’s Office, and Treloar said there were no calls for service to Waterloo Fire Rescue at the location this year prior to Saturday’s shooting.

Waterloo Police were called to a noise complaint at the address shortly before 3 a.m. March 29. They found people outside, and the group agreed to be quiet, Leibold said.

There were three calls between April 13 and April 19 from a caller who suspected the club was violating state pandemic rules that closed bars, although the location wasn’t a bar.

During one check, police discovered a person inside cleaning, and found the cars in the parking lot belonged to tenants in the apartments upstairs. During another visit, an officer found two people inside.

There was a call in late April for unclear reasons that resulted in an officer checking license plates in the lot. Another late April call came from a person who was concerned a lot of people were in the area. Police pulled up and watched three people exit the club and leave.

Then on June 13, a passing patrol officer noticed a large number of vehicles in the lot around 10 p.m. and made a note for other officers to be aware in case there was trouble later. There wasn’t.

None of the calls resulted in officers initiating written reports.

Waterloo officials said the club’s back door was the only way people could enter or exit the property, and witnesses to the September shooting said they had to smash open the front door glass to escape when the gunfire erupted, resulting in trampling injuries.

Building department official Greg Ahlhelm said the 3,200-square-foot facility would need at least two exits to conform with building codes. He said the building had two exits, but one of them was blocked.

Ahlhelm said his department would issue citations to licensed businesses that repeatedly did not comply with correction requests. But no one had inspected the Fourth Street building in recent years. Treloar said the last time fire officials inspected the Fourth Street property was in April 2013, when the new operator tried to start Club Phyre.

The part of the building where the shooting happened is owned by HAA LLC, a domestic limited liability company. The company was created in March 2010, state records show. Limited liability companies are structures that allow individuals or corporations to avoid liability for company debts.

HAA LLC owns other properties in Waterloo occupied by bars and gentlemen’s clubs in Waterloo, including the buildings that house Risque Gentlemen’s Club on Jefferson Street; Broken Record on West Fourth Street; former nightclub Icon Lounge on West Fourth Street; The Saloon on West Fourth Street; Dad’s Pub on La Porte Road; and Flirts Gentlemen’s Club on Jefferson Street, county records show.

Waterloo attorney Eric W. Johnson, registered agent for HAA LLC, said the owners of the limited liability company leased the shooting location in the spring as a gathering space to a man named Victor Williams, who is part of the Inter City Motorcycle Club.

“My clients have been in touch with the police and are cooperating fully and themselves trying to understand what happened that night,” Johnson said of the HAA LLC owners. “I don’t think there’s any connection between my clients and the club.”

Photos: Shooting vigil, Sept. 27, 2020
PHOTOS: Private Club Shooting, Sept. 26, 2020

Pandemic dominates VP debate

SALT LAKE CITY — Republican Mike Pence firmly defended the Trump administration’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic that has killed more than 210,000 Americans while his Democratic challenger, Kamala Harris, condemned “the greatest failure of any presidential administration” in a Wednesday night debate dominated by the coronavirus.

Because of the virus, the candidates were separated by plexiglass barriers in the debate, which was a far more civil affair than last week’s presidential face-off in which President Donald Trump, now back in Washington recovering from COVID-19, constantly interrupted, almost yelling at times.

With the virus sweeping through the highest levels of government and Trump just days out of the hospital, Pence acknowledged that “our nation’s gone through a very challenging time this year.”

But he added, “I want the American people to know, from the very first day, President Trump has put the health of America first.” He promised millions of doses of a yet-to-be-announced treatment before the end of the year.

Harris assailed Trump’s consistent downplaying of the pandemic’s threat, insisting she would not take a vaccine if the Republican president endorsed it without the backing of medical professionals.

“Frankly this administration has forfeited their right to reelection based on this,” she charged.

Less than four weeks before Election Day, Republicans hoped the debate might give the Trump-Pence ticket a final opportunity to help reset a contest that could be slipping away. His poll numbers sagging, the president, with Pence at his side, is struggling to stabilize the nation in the midst of multiple crises as more than a dozen senior officials across the White House, the Pentagon and inside his campaign have been infected by the virus he claimed would disappear.

There were heated exchanges over the environment, the Supreme Court and racism, but overall the debate was far more respectful than Trump and Biden’s eight days earlier. Pence interrupted at times, but nothing like Trump had.

The prime-time meeting in Salt Lake City elevated two candidates with presidential aspirations of their own who may be asked to step into the presidency even before the end of the next term. Health questions loom over President Donald Trump, 74, who is recovering from the coronavirus, and 77-year-old Joe Biden, who would be the oldest U.S. president ever.

Republicans desperately want to cast the race as a choice between two candidates fighting to move the country in vastly different directions. Biden and Harris, they say, would pursue a far-left agenda bordering on socialism; the Democrats say Trump’s administration will stoke racial and other divides, torpedo health care for people who aren’t wealthy and otherwise undercut national strength.

But so long as the coronavirus is ravaging the White House and killing several hundred Americans each day, the election will almost certainly be a referendum on the Trump administration’s inability to control the pandemic, which Republicans have sought to downplay or ignore altogether for several months.

Pence’s message Wednesday night was undercut by the mere fact that the candidates and moderator were separated by plexiglass shields, seated more than 12 feet apart and facing a crowd of masked audience members who faced expulsion if they removed their face coverings. The candidates on stage revealed test results earlier in the day proving they were not infected.

Before Harris said a word, she made history by becoming the first Black woman to stand on a vice presidential debate stage. The night offered her a prime opportunity to energize would-be voters who have shown only modest excitement about Biden, a lifelong politician with a mixed record on race and criminal justice, particularly in his early years in the Senate.

Harris, 55, is the daughter of a Jamaican father and an Indian mother. She is also a former prosecutor whose pointed questioning of Trump’s appointees and court nominees helped make her a Democratic star.

Pence is a 61-year-old former Indiana governor and ex-radio host, an evangelical Christian known for his Midwestern charm and unwavering loyalty to Trump. And while he is Trump’s biggest public defender, the vice president does not share the president’s brash tone or undisciplined style.

When the debate turned to race, Pence pushed back against the existence of systemic racism in police departments.

Harris condemned the killings of Breonna Taylor in Kentucky and George Floyd in Minnesota and spoke about the protests against racial injustice in policing that followed, which Trump has portrayed as “riots” as he calls for law-and-order.

“We are never going to condone violence but we must always fight for the values that we hold dear,” Harris said. “I’m a former career prosecutor. I know what I’m talking about. Bad cops are bad for good cops.”

Pence said his heart breaks for Taylor’s family but he trusts the U.S. justice system. He called it “remarkable” that Harris, as a former attorney general and prosecutor, would question the grand jury’s decision in the case not to charge an officer with killing her.

Pence rejected the idea that law enforcement officers have a bias against minorities.

“I want everyone to know who puts on the uniform of law enforcement every day, President Trump and I stand with you,” Pence said. “We don’t have to choose between supporting law enforcement, proving public safety and supporting our African American neighbors.”

The candidates also clashed on taxes, or specifically, Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns four years after repeatedly promising to do so. The New York Times reported last month that the president pays very little personal income tax but owes hundreds of millions of dollars in debt.

“It’d be really good to know who the president owes money to,” Harris said.

“The one thing we know about Joe, he puts it all out there. He is honest, he is forthright,” she added. “Donald Trump, on the other hand, has been about covering up everything.”

Pence defended Trump as a job creator who has paid more than his fair share of taxes and shifted toward Biden: “On Day One, Joe Biden’s going to raise your taxes.”

AP featured
Iowa governor: 'We can't let COVID-19 dominate our lives'

JOHNSTON — Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds on Wednesday evoked President Donald Trump in saying, “We can’t let COVID-19 dominate our lives,” even as virus cases surge in the state.

Reynolds acknowledged that Iowa is seeing a spike in coronavirus cases and record hospitalizations, but she said the health care system could handle the increase and no further action was needed to reduce infections. While Reynolds said Iowa has taken action to slow the spread of the virus, she argued that it must balance safety precautions against moves to open businesses, schools and return to normal life.

“The president is also right. We can’t let COVID-19 dominate our lives,” she said.

There were 444 people being treated for the coronavirus in hospitals as of Wednesday morning, a record number for the state since the pandemic began. In the past 24 hours, the state had 919 new confirmed positive cases and 15 more deaths.

Despite the increases, Reynolds said hospital officials reported they were equipped to handle the surge.

Reynolds didn’t announce any plans to reduce the rising numbers of people infected and being hospitalized but emphasized that everyone needed to take personal responsibility, including by wearing masks, washing their hands and observing social distancing.

“We’re going to continue to remind people that those are the things they can do to mitigate community spread,” she said.

Asked whether the state should do more, including abiding by a White House Task Force recommendation that Iowa impose a mask mandate, Reynolds responded that there also would be a cost to requiring more stringent safety measures.

“We are doing a lot, and I’m proud of what we’re doing. Any death is one to many, and it’s heart-wrenching to see the numbers,” she said. “I have to balance a lot, and we are, and we’ve got a great team that’s working together, and working with Iowans and businesses across the state. There’s more than just one side of this.”

In her weekly news conferences, Reynolds often stresses that businesses are doing well in Iowa and that schools, despite significant outbreaks that have quarantined hundreds of children and educators, are successfully abiding by her requirement to hold classes.

Reynolds typically doesn’t dwell on details about the increasing numbers of residents being hospitalized or dying of the coronavirus.

Iowa health data shows 97 people were admitted to a hospital with COVID-19 in the last 24 hours, much higher than daily hospitalizations that have typically been below 50 but have spiked in the past month.

In the past week, an average of 10 people died every day. The seven-day rolling average of daily deaths in Iowa has risen over the past two weeks from around seven deaths per day on Sept. 22 to 10 deaths per day on Oct. 6.

The average daily positivity rate also has increased, and Iowa continues to have the fourth-highest positivity rate in the nation at 16.82%, according to an Associated Press analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University.

Reynolds also frequently stresses that younger healthy people often do not get seriously ill. She pointed out again Wednesday that people over 60 made up 72% of hospitalizations over the last two weeks. Iowa had 54 nursing homes with outbreaks of COVID-19 on Wednesday, and of the state’s deaths, 51%, or 723, were in nursing homes.

State data also shows 8,024 children under age 17 have tested positive for coronavirus, as well as more than 4,200 educators.

breaking alert top story
Waterloo Water Works customers to see slight increase in bills in 2021

WATERLOO — Waterloo Water Works customers will see an average increase of 44 cents per month to their bills beginning Jan. 1.

The 3% rate increase recently was approved by the Water Works board of trustees. The municipal utility also serves customers in Black Hawk County, Hudson, Elk Run Heights, Raymond and Washburn.

Chad Coon, Water Works general manager, said the increase will allow the utility to continue investing in local infrastructure. He said the capital improvement program budgets more than $7 million per year on current and future projects. This includes replacing water mains — such as the one along University Avenue, and another on East Shaulis Road near the planned Lost Island Theme Park.

The rate increase comes after commercial customers, which take up 60% of the utility’s water each day, decreased consumption by 10% during the COVID-19 pandemic. Coon said the drop in water usage caused revenue to fall below expectations.

“We’re just trying to not hit people hard with this by any means, but also to be prudent about looking to the future in trying to take that crystal ball and see if I can make it not be so cloudy,” Coon said.

Money from the rate increase will help Water Works identify replacements to avoid catastrophic incidents, replace old fire hydrants, and aid in the city’s economic development efforts at industrial parks, Coon said.

The new rate increase is less than the 10% and 5% rate hikes in 2018 and 2019, respectively. Rates increased 2% in 2020.