Ocean Boulevard was relatively quiet in the early hours of Saturday morning, as the strip crawled with law enforcement on the first weekend after Myrtle Beach’s highest-profile shooting in recent memory.
Just after midnight June 18, a shooting at Ocean Boulevard and 5th Avenue North sent six to the hospital after it was broadcast live on Facebook. That shooting, one of six in three days, brought national attention to Myrtle Beach. It started a week that saw residents and business owners angrily tell city council that crime has been an ongoing issue, as well as a visit from Gov. Henry McMaster, who pledged whatever resources necessary to reinstate safety in the city.
And many officers were patrolling the area Friday night and early Saturday morning. The Sun News observed a S.C. State Trooper vehicle, a Myrtle Beach Police vehicle and a cluster of bike officers move through the intersection at 7th Avenue North within roughly five minutes early Saturday morning.
Orna Mills of the Red Hot Shoppe at 701 N. Ocean Blvd. said she didn’t like the barricades that had been placed up and down the strip, and that customers were continually asking about them — wondering if they might have been left up after a parade.
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But the increase in police presence has been night and day since last weekend, after years of gradually declining levels of law enforcement patrolling the area, she said. Myrtle Beach has had assistance from other agencies around the boulevard area roughly since Easter, which was the beginning of a spate of shootings in April.
More police in the area around the boulevard “has got to be the number one priority,” said Mills, who’s been in the area for 38 years and who frequently stays in the shop until 3 or 4 a.m.
Cops need higher wages, she said, and the city needs to maintain the more obvious presence that’s being assisted by outside agencies like the State Law Enforcement Division and state troopers.
“You can’t just do it for two, three weeks and then stop,” she said.
Just off the boulevard, police pulled over a vehicle and detained three men at 6th Avenue North and Flagg Street. Capt. John Bertang of Myrtle Beach Police said the stop yielded a possible narcotics violation.
“We’ve had a good night,” meaning it had been relatively safe thus far, Bertang said around 1:30 a.m. But, he acknowledged, the night was not over.
Flashing blue lights were the main illumination on that stretch of Flagg Street, which multiple people told The Sun News felt abandoned or unsafe to walk through at night. The city recently announced it is receiving 200 LED lights from Santee Cooper to put on public poles, and says that the new light sources will be brighter and last longer, helping to shed light on darker back lots.
Second- and third-row streets in the central part of the waterfront district are dotted with dilapidated motels and overgrown parking areas, which can contribute to a feeling of unease. The Downtown Redevelopment Corp. has been working to spur investment through its $10 million pool, which loans to property owners to demolish older structures that might not be economically viable. The DRC pays the interests on the loans, which have so far resulted in the removal of the Emerald Shores Motel, the Rainbow Court Motel and the Ocean Liner Motel.
DRC Executive Director Dave Sebok said that the group, a nonprofit arm of the city, is working on new, similar deals he could not disclose because the terms have not been finalized.
But as cleared land awaits development or a buyer, it sits empty, lending to a sense of isolation just a few blocks from the ocean.
City Manager John Pedersen said removing some of the buildings has eliminated empty shells where police saw issues in the past.
“I know for a fact that there were people who were going into the units at the Rainbow Court, and then that back courtyard where nobody could see, and doing all sorts of things,” he said.
Lt. Joey Crosby of the Myrtle Beach Police Department also said law enforcement had not recently briefed him on serious issues with crime in and around empty lots.
Ocean Boulevard, though relatively busier and much better-lit than back streets, was still lacking in foot traffic, and for some businesses, lacking in customers too.
“This is Friday night on Ocean Boulevard,” said bartender Art Kussmich, gesturing at the handful of patrons still sitting at Sharkey’s Beach Bar at 600 N. Ocean Blvd.
He said that Thursday night, the bar closed at 10 p.m., when it normally might shut down at 1 or 2 a.m.
The throngs of people who might have drifted in from the ocean or walking the strip were gone, Kussmich said.
After 2 a.m., The Sun News discovered Councilman Randal Wallace driving northbound on Ocean Boulevard.
In an interview in a parking lot next to the Wayfarer Motel at 311 N. Ocean Blvd. — just a few hundred feet from the site of last weekend’s mass shooting —Wallace said he “decided I just wanted to come down here and see all these folks, see the police presence.”
On Tuesday, city council will consider a change to Myrtle Beach’s juvenile curfew, potentially moving up the time from 1 a.m. to midnight for those 17 and under. Police have said that the suspected shooter on June 18 was a 17-year-old male from North Carolina, but have so far not released the name of the young man, who is still in the hospital.
The result of the curfew change, however, is that it could allow authorities to stop anyone in the street who looks remotely close to 17.
Wallace said he wasn’t in favor of a “police state,” but was positive about more police stops of pedestrians.
“I hope that is something that they’ll be doing,” he said.