Friday, Jan. 6, 11:30 a.m.
It’s last call for a Powerball ticket.
At least it is if someone wants Tracy Bonilla, the secretary in the Detective Bureau at the Youngstown Police Department, to get one for them. She already has a list and money from other detectives and now she is telling them they have one last chance if they haven’t already given her money. The jackpot is $940 million, and several detectives can be heard speculating what they would do with the money if they had the winning numbers. The word “retire” is thrown around a lot.
It’s also a little more than 12 hours since Marquis Whitted and his girlfriend Kylearia Day, both 19, were shot and killed. They were in a car Whitted was driving north on Interstate 680 just before the exit for Connecticut and Bella Vista avenues. Detective sergeants Michael Cox and George Anderson, along with their supervisor, Lt. Mohammad Awad, were on call and caught the case.
Cox is the lead detective and after staying at the police department well after 3 a.m. with Anderson and Awad, is just now getting to his desk. He would’ve been in earlier but he had a sick child and had to wait until a relative could come over and watch him. Anderson has been there for a while and has traced down some leads on social media.
Police said Whitted was killed because he was in a feud with the family that investigators believe also killed his brother in April 2022 in a shooting that also wounded a woman and a 3-year-old child. Detectives do not believe Day was a target but she happened to be with Whitted when the people who wanted him dead spotted his car.
Cox fires up his computer as the others in the room get ready for lunch. Bags and containers are pulled out of desks and detectives make a beeline for the microwave. Cox and Anderson have a busy day ahead of them. They want to start by tracking down the victims’ movements as much as possible before they were killed.
They will also have company. Chief of Detectives Capt. Jason Simon agreed last year to allow a reporter to accompany detectives on a homicide investigation, from the time detectives are first called out until an arrest is made or the case goes cold. Last year, a reporter accompanied detectives who were called out when a set of human remains was found on the East Side that were later determined to belong to a woman who had been missing since 2017.
After Cox gets his computer going, he also checks Facebook, because much of the feud that investigators believe led to Whitted and Day’s deaths started there. Cox also said he received a call from someone who saw the two just before they were killed, so his first stop will be the man’s home so he can question him.
Anderson and Cox take separate cars. With Anderson is Detective Sgt. Ryan Laatsch, who recently transferred to the Detective Bureau after a stint as a patrol supervisor on midnight turn. Cox calls a potential witness but the witness doesn’t answer. He said he’s not surprised.
“She doesn’t want to talk to me,” Cox says.
As they get in the ancient elevator to ride down to the first floor, Anderson said he hopes to learn from the witness how Whitted and Day got from a South Side home, where they are going, to Interstate 680.
“There’s only two ways, maybe three,” he says.
The sky when they get outside is a wall of gray, low, dark clouds keeping everything dark. Cox has been a cop for 24 years, starting in Struthers before coming to Youngstown. He attended Kent State, then Youngstown State University but left without a degree. He went to the Ohio Peace Officers Training Academy before being hired part-time at Struthers. He also had a stint as a Poland Village police officer before joining Youngstown.
With Youngstown, he has served as a patrol officer, then a stint on the Violent Crimes Task Force before moving back to patrol. Unlike other officers after they were promoted to detective sergeant, he went straight to the Detective Bureau without working as a supervisor on one of the department’s patrol beats.
He said working patrol is usually routine, “but at any moment, it can change.” As a detective, there is more stress, and he takes his work home more than he did when he was on the road.
“It never goes away. The cases just stay,” he says. “The responsibility is much greater.”
It starts to snow, big fat, flakes that explode against the windshield as Cox pulls up behind Anderson’s car across the street from the house where the witness is at. Inflatable Christmas decorations rock back and forth in the strong, cold wind. They talk in the drive for about 10 minutes before the detectives walk away. They confer briefly by Anderson’s car before Cox returns to his car. The victims were at the man’s house around 9 p.m., about an hour and a half before they were killed.
Now that they know where the victims were, Cox wants to see if he can find any video showing them heading for the freeway. He heads for a store at Edwards and High Street, which is just off of an exit for 680 South and leads to the Marshal Street entrance ramp to 680 North. Anderson and Laatsch follow and meet him in the parking lot before they head into the store.
Inside, a man is at the counter to play the lottery for $5. Cox grabs a Coke as “About Damn Time” by Lizzo plays over the store’s speakers. When Cox goes to pay for the Coke, he shows the clerk his badge and asks if he can look at their video surveillance system. She opens a door on the side of the counter and ushers him into a back room filled with boxes, merchandise and a computer system with the store’s video surveillance system on the monitor.
The timestamp for the video is an hour and six minutes behind, so Cox calls the department’s dispatch center to get the time the first call came in. Anderson said the store is not only in a perfect location, but thanks to a recent remodeling, has an excellent camera system, especially on the side of the store facing Edwards Avenue.
“There’s a buttload of cameras on that side all the way down to Glenwood [Avenue],” Anderson says.
Cox uses the mouse to check the cameras, scrolling to a few moments before the first recorded call came in the night before, which was 10:43 p.m. Four minutes before that, a car that appears to be the one Whitted was driving is shown traveling east on High Street and turning left onto Edwards Avenue. Cox clicks on several different cameras at different angles that show the car traveling east. It looks exactly like the car Whitted was driving, down to the windows. Behind the car is an SUV. There are no signs of anyone in the SUV having a gun or anything else out of the ordinary, but it is keeping close to the car.
Cox wants to download the video but he doesn’t have a flash drive with him. Neither Anderson nor Laatsch has one either. A call is made to see if someone from the Crime Lab can bring one, but they are stuck on a call, so Anderson and Laatsch go back to the station to retrieve one. Cox is starting to feel a little better about his case.
“This is when it all comes together,” he says. “You get a little hope when you find something on video.”
Cox plays a game on his phone while he waits for Anderson and Laatsch. The store is quiet, with two people coming in and asking to use the bathroom but being told there is no public bathroom. Cox and the clerk chat when he finds out it’s her birthday. They talk about jobs, and Cox says his job can be stressful.
“As much as I love my job, I would never recommend it to anyone I care about,” he says.
Anderson and Laatsch return with the hard drive and Cox downloads videos from several different angles before he thanks the clerk for her help and the three leave. Anderson says he knows a nearby home where an SUV similar to the one seen on video is often parked in the front yard so he’s going to check that out with Laatsch.
Cox is heading to a nearby building on Edwards Street that has a perfect view of the area where Whitted would have had to turn onto 680 North. He knows it has cameras because he used them before during a kidnapping case. The man who lives in the building answers the door but refuses to allow Cox to look at his camera system. He says he has to go somewhere.
Cox says he won’t be long but the man still says no. Cox said he could come back later, but the man says no again. He tells Cox he can look at the video next week.
Cox says that isn’t good enough. He said he has a double homicide he’s investigating and he can not afford to wait because with every passing second the case gets colder.
“I had crying, bawling mothers in my office just a few hours ago,” he says.
The man does not relent, however. Cox gets in his car and drives around looking for other cameras but can’t find any that would give him the vantage point he needs. He then gets on the freeway and drives through the crime scene to the Belle Vista/Connecticut exit, his theory being that whoever fired the shots had to get off the freeway somewhere. He wants to see if he can find any houses with cameras with views of the exit.
His search, however, proves fruitless. It is nearly 4 p.m. when Cox finally returns to the station. He has to keep his Detective Notes, or the notes given to defense attorneys during discovery, up to date and he wants to search Facebook to see if there is any more talk of the feud that killed Whitted and Day. He heads into the station bundled up against the cold wind that is barreling down Boardman Street like a freight train. Less than 24 hours into his case and he may have a lead. It’s a bit like hitting the Powerball. Except he can’t retire.
This story is part two of a series of stories on the killings on Interstate 680 in January 2023.