After meeting with several Horry County elected officials about the fatal shootings during Memorial Day weekend in Myrtle Beach, Gov. Nikki Haley bluntly said Friday that the Atlantic Beach Bikefest event must end.
Atlantic Beach elected officials did not attend Friday’s meeting and could not be immediately reached for comment.
But on Thursday, Atlantic Beach Mayor Jake Evans said the town has no plans to cancel next year’s event and will address crowds spilling over into nearby towns such as Myrtle Beach, where three people were killed Saturday night and seven others hurt in eight shootings.
Haley said the shootings and violence during the weekend hurt tourism and the potential for new industry and jobs to move into the Grand Strand because of the national attention it received.
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“There are no revenues worth the bad press that we got this past weekend. There are no revenues worth the lack of companies that will come to this area because of what happened this weekend. There are no revenues worth the lack of tourism that we will lose because of what happened this past weekend. It is time for that Bikefest to come to an end,” Haley said. “Let’s make sure what’s happening in Atlantic Beach is truly a reflection of South Carolina as a whole, and violence is not a reflection of South Carolina, pollution of South Carolina and disrespect is not a reflection of South Carolina.”
Haley said she will address the issue with Atlantic Beach elected officials and work with them to promote the town in other ways and events.
“There’s nothing worse that the governor wants to see is Myrtle Beach on the front page of USA Today in a negative light. In a time when we are trying to improve the tourism in South Carolina, trying to bring jobs to South Carolina, trying to show everybody why Horry County is such a great place to live, work, vacation and raise a family,” Haley said. “This was not something to be proud of. This was not a good weekend. There was a lot of damage, but more importantly there were deaths. This is no longer a law enforcement issue. Our law enforcement was stellar. We had more than enough people.”
Haley noted that state officials sent 273 officers to assist local departments in staffing for the holiday weekend that includes the Atlantic Beach Bikefest.
“Law enforcement was not a problem this past Memorial weekend. The problem was the lack of a curfew, the lack of a noise ordinance, the lack of any sort of discipline or organization, the lack of any sort of ability to control the environment. That was the problem. But it was not law enforcement,” Haley said. “What we had is an event that has gotten out of hand and is no longer needed in South Carolina.”
Most area departments, including Horry County, Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach, also had all their officers working rotating shifts during the weekend, officials said.
But additional resources will be needed to help the Grand Strand deal with the event and those who plan to attend next year, said Sen. Luke Rankin, R-Myrtle Beach.
“We need resources. We can’t just wish this problem away,” Rankin said. “It’s going to take additional men on the street and a physical presence of law enforcement to cut traffic and clamp down on crime.”
Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus said officials will create a task force to look at how to best address the issues.
“It will be a long process and it won’t be done overnight,” Lazarus said.
Myrtle Beach Mayor John Rhodes said officials met with Haley privately before Haley addressed the media regarding hurricane safety, which was the reason she stopped in Conway Friday morning. Rhodes said he showed the governor a five-minute video of what happened along Ocean Boulevard.
“I would not ask anyone to come back to visit Myrtle Beach on Memorial Day until we get this under control. Nobody needs to be put in a situation they know nothing about,” Rhodes said.
In addition to crowd and traffic control during the weekend, Myrtle Beach police Capt. David Knipes said on Saturday and Sunday, officers responded to eight separate shootings that wounded seven people and killed three.
Devonte Dantzler, 21, Sandy Gaddis Barnwell, 22, both of Summerville, and Jamie Williams, 28, of Ladson, died from gunshot wounds they suffered at the Bermuda Sands Resort at 104 N. Ocean Blvd., about 11 p.m. Saturday, authorities said. Keith A. Williams, 24, was wounded during the shooting and remains hospitalized for treatment.
Haley said it was tragic that three South Carolina residents were killed while in Myrtle Beach during the weekend.
“This was very sad for those families. This was very sad for South Carolina. ... Our job is to keep citizens safe, that didn’t happen and that wasn’t because of law enforcement. That was due to a lack of any organization whatsoever. We love to see festivals. We love to see family events. We love to welcome everybody to South Carolina. But we do not want to do any sort of activities that are going to keep people from coming to visit this state, keep people from leaving their homes or keep people from feeling safe in their own neighborhoods,” Haley said. “We are not going to promote any events going forward that do any harm to the citizens of South Carolina.”
Brad Dean, president of the Myrtle Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, said he was happy with Haley’s understanding that Bikefest must end to “restore order to our community.”
“What’s happened is unacceptable and we’ve got a year to plan for it,” Dean said. “We’ve got to send a message that you are welcome as long as you obey the law.”