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Pioneer Square
A visit to the Seattle Firefighter's Memorial left Don O'Neill lamenting the scary and sorry state of Pioneer Square just weeks before a brutal random standing left one Sounders fan dead and his girlfriend seriously injured. (MyNorthwest file)

Ron and Don: We've lost Pioneer Square

When KIRO Radio's Don O'Neill recounted his horrific visit to Pioneer Square a few weeks ago on The Ron and Don Show, little did he know that his worst fears would be realized so soon. A beloved Shoreline teacher and his girlfriend were randomly attacked Friday night after a Sounders game.

Troy Wolff, 46, was killed and his girlfriend Kristin Ito, 30, was seriously wounded after a mentally ill homeless man attacked them out of the blue with a knife, repeatedly stabbing both.

Donnell D. Jackson, 44, told detectives he is schizophrenic and that Wolff "was a member of a group trying to kill him," according to a probable cause statement. Prosecutors have charged Jackson with first degree murder and first degree attempted murder. He's being held on $2 million bail.

"Suspect is a dangerous mentally ill person who attacked and may have killed a stranger for no reason," wrote Seattle police homicide Detective Cloyd Steiger. Steiger said that Jackson, a transient who moved to Seattle several months ago, is considered an extreme danger to the public.

It's just the latest in a series of problems for what used to be one of Seattle's signature neighborhoods. But it's become a haven for the homeless, many who are mentally ill and potentially dangerous. And KIRO Radio's Ron Upshaw says it's time to stop turning a blind eye to what's become one of Seattle's cesspools.

"We have a blind spot as citizens of the Pacific Northwest where we try to be so tolerant, and for the most part that's really, really good," says Ron. But he says that tolerance has now come back to bite us.

"We want to look the other way and go 'oh don't worry about that guy. He's homeless and he may be mentally unstable, but we have a lot of services around here that are going to pick him up and are going to support him.'"

It turns out we don't. Both Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg spoke Monday of a severe funding crisis that leaves officials with little choice, but to turn many mentally ill people to the streets. And many end up in Pioneer Square.

After trying to take his young son to see the firefighters memorial last month and finding the area overrun with homeless, Don says it was disgusting and scary for both him and the youngster.

"I couldn't go over there because one guy was urinating on top of one of the firefighters, another guy was sleeping, another guy was riding one of the firefighters like a horse. All these guys have either mental issues, they're all high or bombed or drunk out of their minds and they've taken over that part of town."

So what do you do about it? Ron says the first step is to give police more power to clamp down on the most problematic people.

"We have taken away their ability to improve the beat they're on," says Ron. "You see these people, you interact with them, but you know as a Seattle cop if I arrest this guy and take him in for drunk and disorderly or because he brandished a knife or he was aggressively panhandling or for any other petty crime that happens down in Pioneer Square, they know that it's a revolving door and nothing's going to happen."

On Tuesday, Mayor McGinn said he'll add 15 new police officers as part of his 2014 budget. Just last month, the mayor said the city will spend $400,000, through the end of 2013, beefing up patrols to deter major crimes.

Don says the city needs to take the approach former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani did in the 90s when he cleaned up Times Square. The effort included a massive crackdown on the mentally ill, chronic inebriates, and others.

"Do we have the guts to do what Mayor Giuliani did in Times Square?" Don asks. "Did he really clean up or just push undesirables out of the area?"

Whatever Giuliani did, it was a dramatic transformation that Ron and Don agree could happen in Pioneer Square, if the city has the courage and commitment to make it a priority.

Don blames Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and other leaders for devoting attention and resources on bike lanes and other issues over Pioneer Square.

"Take your bike lane down to Pioneer Square, set up some microphones and have a news conference and explain to all of us how you, as our mayor, you're going to make sure another Troy Wolff doesn't happen."

In the meantime, Don says he won't be visiting Pioneer Square again anytime soon.

"A lot of businesses say 'hey, it's not safe down here past five or six o'clock at night.' And evidently it's not even if there's a cop on every corner. And after the Sounders games and after the Seahawks games, there is a cop on every corner," Don says.

What do you think the city should do about Pioneer Square?

Related:

Don: We've got a real problem in Pioneer Square
Shoreline mourns 'tragic loss' of professor stabbed to death in Pioneer Square
Prosecutor: Seattle stabbing can be blamed on lack of mental health funding
Dori: Local leaders need to start prioritizing

Josh Kerns, MyNorthwest.com Reporter
Josh Kerns is an award winning reporter/anchor and host of KIRO Radio's Seattle Sounds (Sunday afternoons 5-6p) and a digital content producer for MyNorthwest.com.
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