Charles Winston grew up in North Las Vegas. He ran with a gang when he was a teenager. He served three years in prison in the mid-1990s for possession of less than a gram of marijuana, a sign of less tolerant times.
But Winston, now a tour bus driver on the Strip, has changed his ways and is living the straight-and-narrow.
It’s a lifestyle he tried to impart upon his stepson, Kenneth Mallett, a Southern California resident who moved to Las Vegas in the late spring to make a new life for himself.
“I told him that if he wanted to live under my roof, then he’d have to get a job,” recounted the 38-year-old Winston of his stepson who moved from Adelanto just outside of Victorville. “I told him there was no drinking, no drugs, no colors.”
But Mallett’s attempt at a turnaround lasted all but three weeks.
He was shot dead June 24 by a neighbor while trying to help him jump-start his car in the parking lot of the Camden Breeze Apartments in the 7100 block of Smoke Ranch Road in the northwest Las Vegas Valley. He was 23.
Winston has been left with the sad duty of burying his stepson. Like other families of young men who have been killed, he has asked, and received, donations from people in low-income and heavily black communities who know what he’s going through.
DONATION JARS WORKING
Mallett’s body now lies in a Riverside, Calif., mortuary awaiting burial. It’s an $8,000 expense that Winston cannot afford, so he has placed donation jars on the counter tops of stores in the neighborhood where he grew up — a rough-and-tumble area some know as the Historic West Side.
It’s one of the poorest areas in the Las Vegas Valley, with federally subsidized housing projects and food stamps commonly accepted at many of the stores.
But poverty levels have done little to deter the flood of donations. At last tally, Winston had raised $4,000, allowing him to purchase the grave site at a Riverside cemetery. All he needs now is the $4,000 to pay the funeral home for the service, coffin and embalming.
And it looks like he’s going to get it.
Who could not feel something after reading a note he placed on one of his jars: “Help bury our son, Kenneth Mallett III, 4-27-1990 — 6-24-13. He was murdered just for trying to help someone jump their car!”
“I owe everybody so much, but I’m still only halfway there,” said Winston, who can’t walk a stretch of street from Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to Lake Mead Boulevard without being recognized by some of the old-timers.
Even some of the young blood, with their jerseys and their athletic wear, have gotten to know him through his recent troubles. They shake his hand as they walk through the doors of Benny’s, a soul food joint at Lake Mead Boulevard and Englestad Street, where the donation jar has brought in hundreds of dollars in a span of three weeks.
“Everybody’s really coming through in the clutch for Kenny,” he said. “I think each and every one of them can relate somehow. I think they either all know someone who’s been killed out here. It’s sad because it should be the kids who are burying the adults, not the other way around. But the kids are dying earlier and I’m not even going to try to get into the socioeconomic factors that lead to it.”
FAMILIAR STORY IN THIS PART OF TOWN
It’s not the first time that a father has had to bury his son, a victim of yet another gang-related or drug related shooting in the neighborhood, according to Bruno Vicenzo, the owner of Quick Check Mart at Englestad Street and Cary Avenue.
In the past five years, he has helped at least a half dozen families — not just Winston.
An Italian immigrant who has lived in Las Vegas more than two decades, he’s still in a bit of culture shock, what with all the surrounding violence.
“It’s another world over here,” he said as he kept his eye trained on several video surveillance screens from behind his counter. “But in the end, they do look after one another when the time comes, and I’m glad I could help.”
It’s the same at Jimmy’s Louisiana Market Deli on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
“It’s the least we can do for our customers when they are having trouble,” said Summer Batiste, the daughter of the owner. “We figure we’re a community-based business, and we should give back to the community in times of need, and if that means letting them put up a jar on the counter, so be it.”
HE WAS JUST TRYING TO HELP
The motive behind the attack is still a mystery. While the details are expected to come out in court, there is a suspect, Brian Michael Beltran, 24, a known gang member in Fresno, Calif. He was charged with murder by the Clark County district attorney’s office.
But this much is certain: Mallett was shot as he ran from apartment to apartment asking for jumper cables, trying to help someone with a problem.
“Those were his last words to me,” said Winston. “He told me, ‘Homeboy needs a jump,’ but we didn’t have any, and then he moved on, he kept looking.”
At one point in his search for cables, Mallett entered an apartment that he at first thought was Beltran’s but actually ended up being occupied by Beltran’s friend, according to the district attorney’s office. It was at that point that he came face to face with a man who told him to get out. He apologized.
Beltran came up to the apartment and asked what was going on, according to investigators.
It was then that a fight broke out between the Mallett and Beltran. At one point, according to witnesses, Beltran kept showing a gun that he had tucked into his waistband, saying “I’ve got heat,” police said.
But by the time the pair had jumper cables, they were laughing, according to a painter who allowed them use his pickup and cables to jump-start Beltran’s car.
Then Mallett was shot several times.
“And now, I’ve got to bury him,” said Winston, adding that the funeral should take place early next week, if all goes well. “Just the other day, I came across the job applications he picked up. A few of them were filled out, but that doesn’t matter much now.”