"There were multiple fights involving multiple combatants," Lieutenant Ciempa told the attorneys in the Casados case. "Sometimes it would be five or six, sometimes it would be thirty to fifty people fighting — throwing bottles, breaking out baseball bats, picking up chunks of concrete from a nearby dumpster, fists, feet, a couple of knives...

"Not everything gravitated into that parking lot, obviously, but yes, that parking lot, I would say, was a big part of the problem. I should say, a big center of the problem."

"As an unarmed civilian," asked Casados attorney Michael Porter, "would you have walked through that parking lot, say, at 1:15 on a Friday or Saturday night or a big drinking holiday?"

A stray bullet from gang violence in a Market Street parking lot seriously injured eighteen-year-old Tiffaine Casados on Halloween 2007. Video: A walking tour through Let Out in LoDo, 2010.
A stray bullet from gang violence in a Market Street parking lot seriously injured eighteen-year-old Tiffaine Casados on Halloween 2007. Video: A walking tour through Let Out in LoDo, 2010.

"No, sir," Ciempa replied.

"And why is that, sir?"

"Because I wouldn't have felt safe."

Heather and Jonathan Hiltz found out just how unsafe the Central lot could be around one o' clock on a Saturday morning in March 2007. With two small children at home in Englewood, the young couple rarely came downtown, but it was their third anniversary and a friend's birthday, a night to make exceptions and go celebrate.

The Hiltzes parked at the north end of the Central lot. As they headed back to their car, Heather was complaining loudly about something that had happened right before they'd left the club. A drunk had fallen and hurt his neck, and Heather had tried to help. When the paramedics arrived, they'd pulled her away and treated her roughly.

"I would say I was a little tipsy, but I wasn't drunk, and I was really upset," she recalls. "I was running in front of my husband and my sister-in-law, and I was screaming about it. Then this girl said, 'What did that dumb white bitch say?'"

Hiltz turned and saw a group of five to ten black males and females who seemed to be just standing around on the lot. "And I said, 'I wasn't fucking talking to you, bitch' — which were the wrong words to come out of my mouth," she says. "I'm from Aurora, and I can hold my own most of the time. The girl got right in my face, and I said, 'I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said that.' And she said, 'You're not going to get away with this.'

"She up and punched me right in the face. It was like hamburger meat. She hit me a second time in my hairline."

Jonathan Hiltz pulled the woman off his wife. Others started hitting him. He tried to shield Heather, picking her up and actually heaving her over the top of their car. "I have never been so scared in my life," Heather says now. "I thought they were going to kill my husband. They were kicking his face in and pummeling him, and one of them tried to stab him."

Jonathan saw the knife and pulled away as the blade poked into his left side, below the rib cage. The beating continued. At one point Jonathan made it to the car, long enough to hand his wife his watch, before being dragged away again. Heather spotted a police cruiser parked across the street and screamed for help.

"I highly doubt they didn't hear me, but they didn't respond," she says. "I screamed for Jonathan, and a citizen came out of his car and pulled them off him."

The assailants took off. Jonathan Hiltz was later treated for a fractured jaw. The couple filed a police report that night and went down to police headquarters the next day to follow up. The officer who took their report appeared greatly unconcerned. "They said it was a privately owned lot and not their problem," Heather says. "They said there were no cameras, so there's nothing they could do for us."

She called Central Parking to complain about the lack of security. She felt that the company should have attendants, or cameras, or at least a sign telling people that they were on their own late at night: "I tried to explain to the guy that their lot is dangerous, that we fought for our lives that night. I told them they need cameras, or something really bad is going to happen. He told me there was no reason to make a report because they hadn't had any other complaints about that lot. He said they couldn't afford cameras when there were no other complaints."

The police never called back. Neither did Central Parking. Heather Hiltz talked to attorneys but soon concluded there was nothing to do with her outrage but swallow it.

She hasn't been back to LoDo. "I don't go downtown," she says. "Never. I'm terrified of it. We are so scared, just because of that incident. I still have nightmares about it. It seemed like these kids are sitting down there waiting for trouble."

Six months later, Tiffaine Casados made her own late-night journey through the lot. Like Heather Hiltz, she'd never thought of the place as dangerous until it was too late.

At first the doctors said she might not live. Then they said the spinal damage was so severe that she would probably have little mobility at all.

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