Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 5:18 PM on Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Reward offered in Wasabi's shooting incident

By Michael Armstrong
Staff Writer

The owners of Wasabi's Restaurant on East End Road have offered a $2,500 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of a shooting that happened sometime after 1 a.m. May 31. Someone fired three shots at the restaurant, hitting the wall and front door, after it was closed.

None of the bullets entered the building and no one was injured in the shooting.

Colt Belmonte, who owns Wasabi's with his wife, Dali Frazier, said he believes the shooting may be related to two earlier incidents, vandalism done to Frazier's VW Beetle in May 2011 and another in May 2010, as well as a threatening letter sent on June 11 to the Alibi, a Pioneer Avenue bar formerly owned by Belmonte and Frazier and now owned by Frazier's son, Nelton, and his wife. The May 2011 vandalism and the threatening letter were racially motivated, Belmonte said. Belmonte is white and Frazier is African-American. Belmonte said he and Frazier frequently hear racist comments in Homer.

"Unfortunately, you have to deal with stuff like that all the time," Belmonte said. "It's so frustrating."

Belmonte found the bullet holes while sweeping the front porch of the entrance that faces East End Road. One bullet hit a concrete block wall, another bounced off the wall and a third bullet ricocheted off the metal frame of the front door. Belmonte reported the shooting on June 11. Alaska State Troopers investigated and believe the shooting happened from a car driving by, said Alaska State Trooper Richard Chambers.

Also on June 11, the Alibi received a letter telling the family to leave town. Homer Police Chief Mark Robl asked that the exact language of the letter not be made public while the investigation continues. Robl said police do not have direct evidence connecting the Wasabi's shooting with the letter, but are investigating the threatening letter as if there is a connection. No suspects have been identified in either case, although Chambers said there is a person of interest troopers are investigating.

In May 2010, someone scratched with a key the paint on Frazier's VW. The car had been left overnight at the Down East Saloon, Belmonte said. In May 2011, someone vandalized the VW by slashing the tires and scratching "die, n----r, die" in the paint, causing $2,800 in damage.

Belmonte and Frazier reported that incident to troopers, Chambers said.

"We can all agree we don't have any place for that in the community," Chambers said.

Belmonte acknowledged that as bar and restaurant owners they have had to fire employees and there might be some disgruntled former workers who might take out their anger against them.

"You can't own a successful business in town without somebody being disgruntled," he said.

Belmonte said that as a husband in a multiracial marriage he is sensitive to racial comments. People make racist statements in his presence, not knowing he's married to an African-American woman.

"For me it really hurts," Belmonte said. "It's racial slander. It's all I can do not to lose my cool and get physical."

Some people have said racist things directly to Frazier. "She's been called all kind of names," he said. "She's been fighting it her whole life."

Belmonte said he doesn't know if other minority families in Homer also hear racist comments.

"That's the question. There aren't that many black people in Homer," he said. "Nobody is taking action and saying, 'Hey, let's find out about this.'"

Chief Robl, who has been with the Homer Police since the 1980s when he started as an officer, said hate crimes are uncommon in his experience.

"I can't ever recall one in Homer," Robl said. "I have just not seen any."

When Belmonte told customers and friends about the shooting and vandalism, he said not many people said "What can I do?" and a lot said "I can't believe this happens in Homer." Homer should realize racism happens here, Belmonte said.

"It's not just black people," he said. Belmonte noted that Homer has other racial and ethnic groups, such as Asians, Alaska Natives and Russian Old Believers.

Chambers said anyone with information on the Wasabi's shooting or other incidents can call Kenai Peninsula Crime Stoppers with complete confidentiality at (800) 478-4258.