The Memorial Day weekend Bikefest hit its peak Saturday night with motorcycle clubs and other enthusiasts roaring down local highways and through the traffic loop to make their parade through Atlantic Beach and along the Grand Strand.
Some law enforcement officials predicted that Bikefest attendance would surge just as high Sunday night, but a summer thunderstorm decided otherwise, washing tourists and bikers off the street and forcing the cancellation of the late-night traffic loop.
Local officials and vendors say attendance appeared to be down this year for the Bikefest, in spite of the high occupancy rates reported by hotels.
Memorial Day weekend tourists seemed to make up the difference on the roads this holiday weekend, jockeying with motorcycles in the traffic loop to get to their destinations.
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“Some businesses are reporting a slight increase in the number of visiting families, which is a very positive sign,” said Brad Dean, president and CEO of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce.
Most hotels did not anticipate an increase in occupancy this year. Those businesses expected the same number, or slightly less, than last year, Dean said.
But last-minute reservations picked up heading into the weekend, and pushed average occupancy rates above 90 percent, he said.
“It was a busy few days throughout the Grand Strand, with very large crowds in town for the holiday weekend,” Dean said.
This year’s event was not marred by violence – shooting deaths that have sullied the bike rally’s reputation in past years.
In 2014, eight people were shot and three killed during bike week, an incident that sparked the creation of the traffic loop to prevent traffic jams where street parties erupted and were blamed for the shootings.
In 2015, two people were wounded in shootings and last year there were three shooting incidents and one person was killed.
“Overall, it appears the heavy presence of law enforcement and improved traffic flow have helped to make the weekend safer and somewhat more manageable, a vast improvement over the chaos we experienced three years ago,” Dean said.
The only shooting this Memorial Day was reported miles away from the Grand Strand in Loris, and was not related to the Bikefest. A woman was also arrested in a Carolina Forest stabbing incident that was unrelated to the bike rally.
Myrtle Beach and Horry County police officials are not expected to release the weekend crime statistics until after Memorial Day.
However, bookings at J. Reuben Long Detention Center show that police were busy over the weekend.
More than 100 suspects were charged at the jail on Sunday and early Monday, about 20 were suspects in assaults, disorderly conduct and domestic violence.
Nearly 20 drug arrests and more than 15 driving under the influence charges were also levied against suspects.
Numerous traffic accidents were reported this weekend that resulted in injuries, including some involving motorcycles.
Countywide, four fatalities were reported from Friday through Monday afternoon, law enforcement officials report.
Carl Trice, 26, of Hampton, Georgia, was killed Saturday night after his motorcycle and a car collided at 21st Avenue North and Oak Street.
Early Sunday morning, 46-year -old Terry Allan Morehead, of Conway was killed after his moped was struck from behind by an SUV.
Police are still searching for the driver, whose vehicle is described as a Dodge Journey SUV that might have damage to the front passenger side and missing part of the front fender.
A second early morning accident on Saturday claimed the life of 31-year-old Edward Douglas Jr., a police officer from New Haven, Connecticut, whose motorcycle crashed on Oak Street in Myrtle Beach, police said.
On Friday afternoon, Ron Demond Bennet, 41, of Loris, was killed in the Green Seas area after he was struck by a car.
Along the Grand Strand traffic loop, vehicles moved at a snail’s pace on Saturday night. The roads resembled parking lots in the first few hours, but then traffic trickled off so dramatically the loop was closed early on Friday and Saturday nights. The loop was canceled Sunday after summer thunderstorms put a damper on the festival.