Local governments to form task forces to determine next steps for handling crime during Memorial Day weekend

mprabhu@thesunnews.comJune 4, 2014 

Grand Strand officials will ask law enforcement professionals and local attorneys to form two tasks forces to look at ways to improve safety and get control of crime that has occurred during Memorial Day weekend.

Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus told members of the Coastal Alliance the task forces would be headed by Paul Whitten, the county’s assistant administrator for public safety, and Horry County Emergency Management. Coastal Alliance is a group that represents Horry County and cities along the Grand Strand.

“We need a comprehensive county-wide plan to attack this element,” Lazarus said.

The move comes after eight reported shootings in Myrtle Beach that left three people dead and injured seven others on Memorial Day weekend, and local governments are discussing what steps can be taken to get such things under control. Thousands of people were on the Grand Strand that weekend for Atlantic Beach Bikefest and Military Appreciation Days in Myrtle Beach.

City and county officials are taking steps to “make things difficult” for those causing trouble while in town, including increasing police presence.

“The good element that wants to be here, they’re not going to leave because they’re not going to be fearful of the police because they’re not doing anything wrong,” Lazarus said. “There’s only one way we’re going to attack this problem. That’s policing it. Until we put boots on the ground, out there and create an atmosphere that the ones who want to create trouble out here can’t.”

Wednesday, the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce said it was working with local and state lawmakers to amend the S.C. budget to allow existing funds to be set aside to pay for additional public safety officers in May.

The proposed budget amendment would allow up to one third of accommodations tax returned to Horry County – or municipalities in Horry County – to be set aside to pay for public safety during events held in May. Another proposed amendment would allow up to one third of destination specific funds that are allocated to the chamber also could be used to pay for public safety.

Violet “Heels” Lucas, a motorcyclist who has been member of various biker clubs along the Grand Strand, urged Lazarus and other members of the Coastal Alliance on Tuesday to work with the motorcycle community to come up with solutions.

“What we’ve been telling people is the same thing you’ve been telling people,” she said. “We put out positive information and people have a sense of pride for the Grand Strand. We just need to put forward a more united positive message.”

North Myrtle Beach Mayor Marilyn Hatley said Lucas met with the city in 2008 when the rally began to gain popularity and they worked together to get control of trash, speeding and disrespectful motorcyclists.

Lucas said she and others in the motorcycle community are frustrated that the negative element of Bikefest onlookers get lumped in with those who are actually on motorcycles.

“The things that they’re doing are not conducive to who we are,” she said. “We don’t want them creating havoc in the city, the surrounding cities or the county. ... Overall, collectively we have a positive group of motorcyclists that are respectful.”

Myrtle Beach police have said the triple fatal shooting at the Bermuda Sands Resort on First Avenue North was the result of possible gang activity and have not made a link between the shooting and Bikefest.

Jamie Williams, 28, of Ladson, and Devonte Dantzler, 21,of Summerville died on the scene. Sandy Gaddis Barnwell, 22, of Summerville was pronounced dead later at Grand Strand Regional Medical Center. A fourth person, Keith Williams of Lincolnville, was injured in the shooting. Seven others were injured by gunfire that weekend.

Gov. Nikki Haley on Friday called for the end of the annual event hosted by Atlantic Beach, but town officials have said they have no plans to stop the motorcycle event which has been held since the early 1980s. Haley said on Tuesday that she plans to meet with officials in Atlantic Beach.

Atlantic Beach Mayor Jake Evans said Monday that city officials have not yet met with representatives from other municipalities or the governor, but they hope to soon. Evans is part of the Coastal Alliance but was unable to attend because the town had a court hearing scheduled.

Evans said the town will work with other surrounding areas to help get control of crime seen along the Strand.

In North Myrtle Beach, a man told City Council Monday that something needs to change with BikeFest and last week residents filled council chambers in Myrtle Beach expressing concerns about the event. Many said they felt threatened by the people in town Memorial Day weekend.

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

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