Westword Photographer's Tales of LoDo Violence, Being Blinded in One Eye

The weekend shooting at 18th and Market streets, which killed one person and injured another, took place in a parking lot that's long been known by Denver police as the worst place to be during let-out for area bars and clubs.

Plenty of drivers would agree. Multiple cars in the lot were peppered with bullets in what investigators now believe was a gang-related incident that resulted in more than 100 shots being fired.

Among those whose cars suffered damage was Aaron Thackeray, a photographer known by Westword readers for his consistently striking images. But being close to lower-downtown crime is nothing new for him.

He's witnessed plenty of fights and violent acts in the 18th and Market lot and nearby blocks over recent years, even capturing one such scuffle in a video he made to accompany our recent article titled "How Lower Downtown Went From LoDo to BroDo." (The clip is on view below.) And just over two years ago, he was the victim of a random attack that left him blind in one eye — a permanent injury that endangered his career and forced him to learn how to take photos in an entirely new way.

Still, the latest shooting has left him shaken. When asked if he'll stop visiting LoDo in the evenings, he says, "I don't know. But if there was any type of deterrent to going, it would be this."

Because Thackeray worked at 1Up and the Summit Music Hall for five years, he's frequently parked in the 18th and Market lot, which is close to both venues. As a result, "I've seen violence there before," he says. "I would see a fight there almost every other weekend."

In the beginning, Thackeray tended to shrug off these brawls: "You get so used to it," he concedes. "I would just shake my head and keep walking."

That was before the attack on him. The assault took place in March 2014, during a period of time when Denver was the field of play for what was known as "the knock-out game" — sucker-punching random people with the goal of leaving them unconscious.

"It was the night before the St. Patrick's Day parade, a Friday night," he remembers. "I was leaving work, and I was stopped at a light at 20th and Wazee when a car came up to the left. When it stopped, three men came out and punched me in the face with brass knuckles, then got back in the car, said stuff and drove away."

The damage done to Thackeray was severe. "I was rendered blind in one eye because of it," he reveals. "It was my left eye, and I'm left-handed, so I always used my left eye to take photos. Afterward, I had to teach myself to start shooting using my right eye. It was crazy."

Thackeray filed a police report, providing a full description of the car and the perpetrators — but no one was ever arrested or charged with the attack.

Nevertheless, Thackeray continued to work and play in LoDo, much to the surprise of his friends. "Everyone would be like, 'Why the fuck do you still go down there?'" he notes. "And I'd be like, 'It's right next to the baseball stadium. Kids and families go down there.'"

He reacted with similar nonchalance while shooting the "BroDo" video near the ViewHouse, at 2015 Market Street, a few weeks ago. The time-lapse clip required Thackeray to stay on the scene for two hours, and during that span, he says, "a fight broke out right behind us. All I had to do is turn the camera around behind us. We missed a guy getting knocked out, but we have footage of him laying on the ground, people yelling, the cops coming."

Here's a screen capture of the man laying prone on the sidewalk.

Cut to last Friday, July 29, when Thackeray returned to the area.

"I was meeting up with some friends — it was one of my friends' birthday," he recounts. "I parked in the [18th and Market] parking lot around 11:45 to midnight, and there was a group of people hanging out in the lot where I usually parked. It struck me as odd, but it didn't do anything to make me deviate from my plan. I just parked away from them to avoid any altercations."

From there, Thackeray continues, "I went to 1Up to wait for my friends — and they parked in the lot, too. We were going to meet at another location, but they heard the gunshots right as they were leaving the parking lot. They fled the area, and I came back right after it happened, just as the cops were getting there."

Because police cordoned off the lot after the shooting, Thackeray took a Lyft home. The following morning, he received a call from an investigators wanting "permission to search your vehicle and recover any ballistic evidence — which pretty much meant they were asking, 'Can we get the bullets from the back of your car?'"

The back windows of Thackeray's car were shot out, with one bullet winding up near the engine block and another "going through the frame on one side, then through the headrest and the back window." He guesses that at least three bullets hit the vehicle but says there could have been more.

The expense of fixing his vehicle worries him: "I have liability insurance, but my car is twelve years old. If they say, 'Oh, sorry, we're not going to do anything,' I'll have to pay for this out of my own pocket."

As for the shooting, he says, "It's a hard thing to blame on LoDo itself. There's a lot of police presence down there, but that didn't stop this from happening. There were so many shots, so many bullets; the next day, there were bullets everywhere. So this wasn't just some solitary little scuffle. I don't know enough about guns to say what they were using, but it might have been some kind of machine gun — and if people are bringing those downtown and opening fire, that's something that should be addressed."

Look below to see Thackeray's time-lapse video. The aftermath of the fight can be viewed at around the 1:55 mark.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts

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