Weekend of violence has Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce president on damage control

akelley@thesunnews.comMay 27, 2014 

Several shootings on Memorial Day weekend have Grand Strand officials on damage control working to spread the word to visitors and residents that the area is safe.

Three people were killed and seven injured in five confirmed shootings over the weekend, but Myrtle Beach Police Capt. David Knipes said there were several more reports of shootings or sounds of gunshots that were unconfirmed.

The violence struck a nerve with Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce President Brad Dean.

“Unfortunately, none of us are surprised, as the Memorial Day motorcycle rally continues to create unanswered challenges for the community and visitors,” he said. “Safety is a necessity for a tourism destination to thrive and no amount of publicity and promotion will counter the bad publicity generated this weekend.”

“The senseless acts of criminals and unruly visitors have once again marred what should have been a stellar weekend celebrating our armed forces and those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of America.” He said the Chamber is working with “promotional partners to do what little we can to counter the negative publicity and assure those visitors planning a trip to the Myrtle Beach area that our community values their safety.”

State Rep. Tracy Edge also issued a statement following the shootings saying the cities and law enforcement need to “take back the streets and make the Grand Strand safer for residents, business owners and visitors.”

Edge said additional law enforcement assistance should be used next year.

“While there were times when things appeared that police were fighting an uphill battle we never have seen the type of lawlessness and violence seen this weekend,” he said. “Therefore I pledge to area municipalities and area law enforcement agencies and I promise to the people in Horry County and along the Grand Strand that we will bring back hundreds of state officers next year, provided that we are asked by local authorities to do so.”

State Rep. Alan Clemmons, of Myrtle Beach, released a statement Tuesay saying the reverence of the holiday was lost by the shooting and pledged his support for resources next year.

“I stand ready, along with my fellow members of the Horry County delegation to the South Carolina House of Representatives, to provide the City of Myrtle Beach and Myrtle Beach City Council with whatever state resources that the city may request in order to resolve the issues that landed our family-centered resort town in the national spotlight,” Clemmons said.

Not all believe the Atlantic Beach Memorial Day BikeFest crowds are to blame, and no connection has been made between any of the shootings and the rally. Atlantic Beach Town Manager William Booker said the shootings are tragic, but doesn’t think they were related to the town’s annual event.

“We had nothing of that magnitude,” he said. “We had no problems in Atlantic Beach. We had no arrests and we had very few citations ... From our perspective what happened in Myrtle Beach was totally unrelated.”

No arrests had been made as of Monday evening. Last year, Myrtle Beach had two homicides. To see three in one night was concerning, Knipes said.

“It’s a very high and alarming number,” he said.

Jamie Williams, 28, of Ladson, and Devonte Dantzler, 21, and Sandy Gaddis Barnwell, 22, both of Summerville, were pronounced dead by Horry County Deputy Coroner Darris Fowler on Saturday. Fowler said all three died from trauma to vital organs due to gunshot wounds sustained during a shooting at Bermuda Sands Resort on 1st Avenue North.

Officers responded at about 11 p.m. Saturday to a reported large fight outside the Bermuda Sands. Three shots were fired before police arrived, striking Keith Williams. As police were providing medical attention to Keith Williams, those involved in the fight moved to the second floor of Bermuda Sands, according to the release.

After about five minutes, officers said the shooter then went to the second floor of the hotel and fired several shots at Jamie Williams, Dantzler and Barnwell, who police say were involved in the fight.

Police believe the shooter fled the rear of the hotel.

Jamie Williams and Dantzler died immediately, and Barnwell and Keith Williams were taken to Grand Strand with gunshot wounds. Barnwell was pronounced dead at the hospital.

On Saturday, another person was injured in a shooting at 6th Avenue South and Ocean Boulevard, two were injured in a shooting at 8th Avenue North and Ocean Boulevard and one was shot in the leg at the Fountain Bleu Motel at 7th Avenue North and Flagg Street.

On Sunday, two were injured in a shooting at the Wave Rider Resort at 1600 South Ocean Boulevard.

Knipes said every available officer was working this weekend. He said changes to enforcement in years ahead have not yet been discussed.

“It’s too early to tell,” he said Monday. “It’s not over. We haven’t looked at stats or sat down and discussed things. It’s not just a police issue, but a community issue that will have to be discussed over time.

“Most of the crowd is not on bikes,” Knipes said. “They could be here because of the BikeFest, but it’s hard to tell.”

Police ask that anyone who witnessed the incident or has cellphone video to email btruex@cityofmyrtlebeach.com or call 918-1382.

Contact AMANDA KELLEY at 626-0381 or on Twitter @TSN_AKelley.

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