Riverfront shaken by break-ins, shooting

Published 9:25 pm Friday, May 29, 2015

Summerhouse Drive, where Thursday's shooting occurred, is in the Riverfront neighborhood.

Summerhouse Drive, where Thursday’s shooting occurred, is in the Riverfront neighborhood.

Jennifer Smith’s life changed when she arrived at home in Harbour View’s upscale Riverfront community one afternoon in September.

The first odd thing she noticed was her dogs running up a rainy Summerhouse Drive — they’re always secured inside when no one’s home.

Inside, the house was a mess. Every drawer and cabinet was open and the contents tossed, Smith said. The back door — frame and all — was ripped out and lying on the floor.

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In her shocked state, Smith said, she only finally realized what had occurred when she discovered the jewelry missing and prescription drugs riffled through.

“It’s the worst feeling ever,” Smith said. “You are never quite comfortable again. I don’t want that to ever happen to anyone again, but it keeps happening.”

Talk to Smith and many others who call Riverfront home, and they’ll cite a spate of burglaries and attempted burglaries, vehicles broken into and suspicious incidents during the past year or two.

It finally turned ugly Thursday: Nearby neighbors, after going out for dinner, returned to their residence a few doors down from Smith’s on the opposite side of the street, to find someone had broken into the house, according to city spokeswoman Diana Klink.

When he confronted the intruders, Gary Useldinger, 61, was shot. Dispatchers received an emergency call at 9:40 p.m., and Useldinger was treated at the scene by Suffolk Fire and Rescue personnel, before he was taken by ambulance to Sentara Norfolk General Hospital with non-life threatening injuries.

The intruders, described as black males, fled on foot.

Doug Pillsbury, who lives diagonally behind the house, said his children were playing in the backyard about an hour before the shooting, adding he didn’t get a lot of sleep last night.

“Two houses down from us, during a Christmas party, at daytime, someone smashed the window on a car and took a purse out of it,” Pillsbury recalled.

Earlier this year, over the period of about a month, people were regularly knocking on his door at about 11:30 p.m. and fleeing when the lights came on upstairs, Pillsbury said.

“It’s very concerning, because the frequency of this is increasing,” he said. “We’ve lived here since 2008, and it seems like in the last 24 months … it has drastically increased.”

Candace Wilkinson said the house where the shooting occurred — a few doors down from hers — was broken into about a year ago when the family was out of town.

The cat-sitter found the door wide open and the house “completely trashed,” she said.

The latest incident is especially worrying, Wilkinson said, because “it’s a gunshot … they had a gun in there.”

Wilkinson, Smith and Pillsbury described several other break-ins of homes and vehicles in the past year or so. They say police have stepped up patrols, and police and folks from the city attended a homeowners’ association meeting to address the issue.

There’s been discussion about forming a neighborhood watch group, installing cameras and hiring private security, Pillsbury said, but nothing’s ever come of it.

“Residents are scared,” he said. “People aren’t sleeping at night, because they’re worried.”

“Now this poor guy down the street has been shot,” said Smith, who can take some comfort in the fact that one defendant in the burglary of her home is before the courts.

“I honestly think there’s word on the street that this neighborhood is open.”

Anyone who has information is asked to call Crime Line at 1-888-LOCK-U-UP or text the keyword SPDVATIP and the tip to 274637 (CRIMES). Tipsters never have to give their names or appear in court, and may be eligible for a reward of up to $1,000.