MU takes up garage security

University officials are discussing whether cameras provide greater security in parking structures.
Thursday, January 13, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 5:23 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 8, 2008

MU officials have begun discussing whether the Maryland Avenue parking garage — where a homicide, two suicides and a suicide attempt have occurred in the past year — needs more attention from law enforcement.

Several hospital employees who use the garage said they feel safe there. Others aren’t as comfortable.

“I never felt unsafe prior to Friday,” said Jessica Schaefer, a resident physician at University Hospital. “But I guess it’s kind of a realization that things can happen and no one can know anything about it.”

MU researcher Jeong Im was found dead in the garage Friday afternoon, stabbed multiple times in the chest and stuffed in the trunk of his burning Honda Accord. His car was parked in the third-level driving lane when firefighters arrived and doused the small fire with an extinguisher.

Investigators have followed more than 150 leads, MU police Capt. Brian Weimer said Wednesday. The Mid-Missouri Major Case Squad, which includes officers from numerous area law enforcement agencies, continues to work on the case.

Police have not identified a motive or determined whether the killer knew Im, Weimer said.

Im’s associates in the School of Medicine will gather for a memorial service at 10 a.m. today in the Medical Science Building’s Acuff Auditorium.

Schaefer said she would feel safer if access to the garage were restricted by a gate or security clearance card, or if it was monitored by security cameras.

“Cameras would be important to me,” she said. “I always thought they were there.”

None of the six parking garages on campus feature security cameras. Installing them could cost about $50,000 per building, said MU Parking and Transportation Director Jim Joy. That figure includes the price of cameras that would monitor each stairwell, entrance and exit as well as installation, and connection to MU police monitors.

“The issue is, would security cameras provide more security?” Joy said. “Would people feel better if there were cameras?”

Security cameras could accomplish three things — preventing a future crime, helping authorities solve a future crime, or simply allaying fears stirred by the slaying. Joy said the first is unlikely.

“Every bank and bank teller has a camera over them, but there are still bank robberies,” he said.

Weimer noted that Im’s murder is the only one of the four recent incidents at the garage to involve criminal activity. “What kind of security measure is going to prevent a person from killing themselves?” he asked. “That’s a decision they’ve made.”

Weimer and Joy are still in the early stages of their discussions, and both men said the decision will depend on public demand for greater surveillance.

Efforts to calm employees still leery of the garage are already being made. University Hospital security manager Ernie Barbee said hospital security officers have long been available to escort employees to their cars, a service that has grown more popular since Im’s body was discovered.

“I wouldn’t call it dramatic, but certainly there’s been an increase,” he said.

Barbee has added an officer during shift changes to accommodate increased demand. Hospital guards do not usually patrol the Maryland Avenue garage, and Barbee said the escorts have not yielded any tips for police.

Investigators are still seeking a person of interest who witnesses spotted near the garage on Friday. He is between 6 feet and 6 feet 2 and was wearing painter’s pants, a dark-blue, hooded sweatshirt and what looked like a painter’s mask or drywall mask. He was also carrying a gas can.

MU police and 28 officers from the Major Case Squad have conducted interviews to establish a timeline of how Im spent the hours before his death. Weimer said the timeline is incomplete, but investigators have narrowed down a time frame in which Im’s car was seen parked in the driving lane. He would not specify when the sightings occurred.

Investigators are asking anyone with information to call MU police at 882-7203 or CrimeStoppers at 875-TIPS.

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