Angry residents demand Myrtle Beach officials do something to curb violence on Memorial Day weekend

mprabhu@thesunnews.comMay 27, 2014 

It was standing-room only in Myrtle Beach City Council chambers Tuesday afternoon as hundreds gathered to express their anger regarding the high level of crime in the city during Memorial Day weekend.

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

City Council members vowed to address the issue and work to curb crime during Memorial Day weekend – and year round – but said there was no simple answer.

“There’s not going to be a magic wand to solve those issues,” Councilman Wayne Gray said. “We’re going to be working with all of the the resources we have.”

About 30 people addressed City Council during their Tuesday afternoon meeting to share stories of things witnessed during the weekend and urge council members to do something about it.

“It’s not the bikers, it’s the lawlessness that’s the problem,” said Misty Coan, owner of Lulu’s Cafe at 19th Avenue North in Myrtle Beach. “I cannot run a business when it doesn’t feel safe.”

Thousands traveled to the Grand Strand to participate in Atlantic Beach BikeFest and Military Appreciation Days during Memorial Day weekend.

Three people were gunned down Saturday night at Bermuda Sands Resort on First Avenue North. 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.

Many people who live in the downtown area of Myrtle Beach told City Council they felt unsafe and like hostages in their own homes throughout the weekend.

Downtown resident Jill Sanderson said hundreds of people gathered in her yard daily during the weekend, and when she asked them to leave, they were combative.

“My life was threatened all weekend long,” she said.

Bill Garofalo told City Council members they should look to Atlanta for the measures taken to get their Freaknik event under control. Freaknik was a spring break event held in Atlanta in the 1980s and 1990s for students from historically black colleges and universities.

“If they stopped it, you can stop it here,” he said. “Either stop it completely or enforce every law on the books ... and maybe the thugs will stay away.”

Ray Booth, manager of Bermuda Sands – where Saturday night’s shooting took place – and other Ocean Boulevard hotels, said it is the young crowd of onlookers that cause problems during BikeFest weekend, not motorcyclists.

“It’s an age issue,” he said. “You can’t keep people from coming to the beach. They have a right to come. But when they come they need to act like responsible citizens. That’s all we’re asking.”

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 police.

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. No arrests had been made as of Tuesday evening.

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 Sixth Avenue South and Ocean Boulevard, two were injured in a shooting at Eighth Avenue North and Ocean Boulevard and one was shot in the leg at the Fountain Bleu Motel at Seventh Avenue North and Flagg Street.

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

Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus said he, Myrtle Beach Mayor John Rhodes and city and county staff plan to meet with Gov. Nikki Haley on Friday to discuss ways to make the weekend safer. S.C. lawmakers have extended their support to Myrtle Beach and said they will offer whatever state resources the city needs to get things under control.

“We don’t have enough law enforcement officers,” Rhodes said. “We only had 400 total – 200 per shift – over 60 blocks. We needed 800.”

Myrtle Beach has 200 sworn police positions and officers from other jurisdictions were in the city to help with enforcement last weekend, city spokesman Mark Kruea said. Knipes said every available officer was working last weekend.

Increasing the number of police officers is something City Council members already said was a priority for this year’s budget. They approved first reading of an ordinance that increases the property tax rate adds 3 mills to 69.1, which they say will pay to add 10 sworn officers to the city’s force. Chief Warren Gall requested an additional 20 officers.

“The buck stops here with us,” Councilman Randal Wallace said. “We’re going to figure out how to handle things better next year.”

City Council discussed ways to develop security services during an executive session during a Tuesday morning workshop and Rhodes said they will continue to figure out ways to address crime on busy weekends.

Rhodes said he knows that increased police presence alone will not solve issues of crime.

“We have to sit down and lay out what the city can do,” he said. “And we are going to need help. It’s going to have to be a community effort.”

Contact MAYA T. PRABHU at 444-1722 or on Twitter @TSN_mprabhu.

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