Westerville News & Public Opinion

Slain jogger

Call made for tighter oversight

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As Jane E. Juergens' family and friends laid her to rest last week, her neighbors began work to make Blendon Township safer.

Juergens, 55, was stabbed to death Oct. 20 as she jogged through the township's Ridgewood Park.

Jordan T. Stewart, 16, a Westerville Central High School student and resident of a juvenile group home near the park, was arrested for the murder.

Juergens had been stabbed 26 times, according to a coroner's report. She had no defensive wounds.

Blendon Township Trustee Stew Flaherty said local leaders want to ensure that no one else is victimized a resident of a group home. He said the facilities are largely unregulated within communities.

Sometimes, Flaherty said, the homes pose no threat to a neighborhood. Other times, he said, neighbors feel terrorized by their presence, as he said neighbors of Stewart's home have reported.

Juergens' murder proves that the homes aren't harmless, Flaherty said.

"We take it personally in Blendon," Flaherty said.

"It's not about averages. It's not about most or good: 'Most of the time, things are good,' " he said.

"Jane Juergens is dead," Flaherty said. "Brutally murdered. It's not about 99 percent of the time. It's about that one."

Township leaders met last week with state Rep. Anne Gonzales (R-Westerville) and will meet with state Sen. Kevin Bacon (R-Minerva Park), Flaherty said.

Trustees hope the pair would be willing to take up bills at the Statehouse that would give municipalities more control over the group homes that choose to locate there, Flaherty said.

Under current fair-housing laws, the homes may locate within a community without local permits or notification of local officials.

"We can't zone the homes out of the neighborhood, and we aren't interested in saying, 'No, we don't now want them at all,' " Flaherty said.

What trustees would like to see, Flaherty said, is state law that creates limits on where the homes can be located, requiring them to be placed far from parks, schools and any other potentially targeted area, "putting a buffer around those highly sensitive areas and sensitive targets."

He said trustees also would like to see local authorities and schools notified when violent offenders are placed within their communities.

"We really would like to require or have the states require that if Children's Services places a violent offender into the community, that local police, fire, (and emergency medical services) are notified within 24 hours that these people have been placed," Flaherty said.

Flaherty said the township also would like to see better training for the people who staff group homes.

"This was one individual who had problems," Flaherty said.

"He had expressed problems, his frustrations and anger at that world. It seemed to, in hindsight, be building in the weeks before this occurred," Flaherty said.

"We do know reports have been made. Unfortunately, it gets to Children's Services, and it doesn't go far."

Blendon Township residents also are calling for change and accountability.

Pam Clegg, a member of the Huber Ridge Area Association, began circulating a petition calling for better oversight of the homes, better training for employees and that violent offenders not be placed in the homes.

The petition, which Clegg plans to present to the Franklin County Board of Commissioners, also calls for an investigation into Stewart's case and what could have been done to prevent Juergens' murder.

"We thought the problem is that, the supervision at the home wasn't sufficient," Clegg said. "We're saying something isn't right."

The privately run homes must be required to have better trained staff that would better serve the clients at the home and address problems as they arise, Clegg said.

Residents have reported problems with the home and concerns about its residents since it moved onto Copenhagen Drive in 2007, Clegg said.

The petition is meant to represent neighbors' concerns, she said.

"All I did for the petition was listen to what I heard residents say and the concerns that they had and had expressed," Clegg said.

Services for Juergens were held Oct. 27 at the Moreland Funeral Home. She is survived by sons Matthew Juergens of Columbus and Andrew Juergens of Westerville; and mother, Elizabeth Gibson of Columbus. Plans call for a special memorial fund to be set up at a later date.

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