Operator unsure how guns got into club

The operator of the nightclub where an Altoona man was killed late Thursday night said he was “sickened” by the shooting but said the individuals allegedly involved were regular customers who caused no trouble in the past.

Jeffrey Keller, who has managed the club for the past 2 months, said he doesn’t know how the guns got into the Choices Cigar Lounge and Night Club, more recently known as Club Nxt, because he said he personally patted down each person who entered.

Keller said he normally has seven bouncers on the weekends, but on Thursday night, a slow time for his business, there were only a few people at the bottle club, and he took care of the security.

Altoona police have arrested Hugo “Juice” Baez, a native of New York City, for the shooting death of Willie Skakeit Solomon, 22, of Altoona, formerly of East Orange, N.J.

Police said a video of the killing showed that Jacob Dormevil Jr., known to Keller only as “Junior,” approached Baez, said something, and the two men then proceeded toward the door of the club.

A tape of the incident showed Solomon grabbed Baez, who then pulled a revolver and fired five shots.

Solomon was pronounced dead at UPMC Altoona just after midnight.

Baez was sitting with Brandon Midder, 24, of Altoona when the incident began, and Midder pulled a gun after Solomon grabbed Baez. Midder was initially identified as a club bouncer, but Keller said he hadn’t worked in that capacity for a couple of weeks and was not on duty Thursday.

Midder and Baez were apprehended early Friday in a vehicle by city police at Water Street, on their way to Huntingdon.

Keller, while not seeing the actual shooting, said he watched the video of what took place with investigators from the Altoona Police Department.

“I’m sickened. What, really, honestly warranted taking another man’s life?” he asked Saturday afternoon. He said he doesn’t know what caused the incident to occur, but he said, “I did stupid things in my life, but I never thought of taking a man’s life.

“My stomach is so sick. Every time I lay my head down, I can see it. It’s nothing I ever want to see again my whole life,” said Keller.

In viewing the tape, Keller said he saw something, which he said he could not talk about, that showed how the guns possibly were smuggled into the club.

He also stated that while the group that was in the club that night never caused any problems for him, he said people have told him there was an ongoing dispute between the participants.

Solomon, whom he knew as “Willie,” was “really, literally a nice guy,” Keller stated.

On Saturday, there was a sign outside the club that said, “Rest in Peace Willie.”

The sign was erected as a memorial to Solomon during a get-together Friday night that included about 15 friends and members of Solomon’s family. Keller said the Friday event included only those close to Solomon and the general public was turned away at the door.

The club often features dancers as entertainment, and over the years has been known by various names like the Tin Cup and Thee Mirage.

Keller explained he is well aware that the neighbors have been upset for years by the violence and other crimes occurring around the establishment. He said of the “bad persona” the club has, “I really am trying my best to change that attitude.”

He wants to keep the club and said because of the shooting he is seriously considering converting the facility to a teenage nightclub, which would mean it would be open only on the weekends.

That means there would be no alcohol, Keller said.

Police listed the ages of Baez and Dormevil as 20 years old, but Keller said they had cards showing themselves to be in their mid-20s. He said they were carded. Keller said he has worked as a disc jockey for 22 years, and he decided to try his hand at the club just weeks ago because he thought it was “an opportunity.”