Atlantic Beach officials say the biker rally hosted in town is here to stay despite calls from Gov. Nikki Haley to end the annual event after a violent Memorial Day weekend that left three dead and seven injured.
Residents and members of the motorcycle community spoke during a Town Council meeting Monday in support of the event — held in Atlantic Beach since the early 1980s — and urged council members to stand firm in their plans to keep the Atlantic Beach Bikefest going.
“I wish to commend you for a job well done [Memorial Day] weekend,” said Joe Montgomery, former Atlantic Beach mayor. “What happened in Myrtle Beach had nothing to do with our event. They are habitual criminals that came to Myrtle Beach. ... We are in good shape and nobody is going to stop this Bikefest.”
Myrtle Beach police have said a May 24 shooting that killed three people at Bermuda Sands Resort on First Avenue North was the result of possible gang activity.
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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. Police reported seven other shootings in Myrtle Beach that weekend.
Derrick Brommel, a motorcyclist who attends the Bikefest regularly, said he doesn’t understand how the event is blamed for the things that happened in Myrtle Beach.
“That was a bunch of young kids out behaving foolishly, acting foolishly,” he said. “It came from wherever they came from. It didn’t start in Myrtle Beach, they brought that with them.”
Georgetown resident Violet “Heels” Lucas has been a member of several area bike club and said the bike community has been asking officials in Atlantic Beach and other areas of the Grand Strand to get control of the crowds of onlookers some of whom are are not motorcyclists, but come to town and cause trouble.
“We have concerns about drifters who are not bikers ... being labeled as bikers and connected to this event,” she said. “It’s unfair to say that 380,000 people can not come. It’s not fair to not properly plan for 380,000 people. Until we can work together we are not the solution, we are a part of the problem.”
Lucas said the event is more about camaraderie and connecting over the love of motorcycles.
“It’s like a family reunion,” she said.
Atlantic Beach Mayor Jake Evans said city officials have not yet met with representatives from other municipalities or the governor, but they hope to soon. Haley said during a press conference last Friday that Atlantic Beach Bikefest must end.
“We don’t plan to end Bikefest, we plan to work together and see how we can make it better and get rid of the bad elements of it,” Evans said. “Anytime there’s 300,000 people here on the Grand Strand you’re going to have people who are not following orders and doing what they’re supposed to be doing. We just have to come together and control that part of it.”
While residents of Atlantic Beach and Bikefest participants said they enjoy the event, residents in Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach said the crime that’s come with it needs to be controlled.
Charles DeCarlo has lived in North Myrtle Beach – which surrounds Atlantic Beach – for eight years and said this BikeFest was the first time he was angered by the event.
He said Saturday during the Memorial Day weekend rally he was crossing Ocean Boulevard at Main St. with his grandchildren, ages 9 and 11, when he saw what he called “terrorists on wheels.”
He said there were bikers dressed head to toe in black with bandannas covering their faces so only their eyes showed. He said it was frightening and not something that should be on a family beach.
But, DeCarlo said he hopes Haley saying last week that BikeFest should end will bring resolution to issues North Myrtle Beach sees from the rally hosted by its neighbor.
Mayor Marilyn Hatley assured residents at a City Council meeting Monday that officials are working on it and were involved in the meeting with the governor last week.
“We're going to do everything we can to make Memorial Day better and what it should be to honor our veterans,” she said. “We are on top of it.”
Last week, residents filled Myrtle Beach City Council chambers to express their concerns as well. Many said they felt threatened by the people in town on Memorial Day weekend.
But ending Bikefest is not something Atlantic Beach officials plan to consider, not only because it’s the town’s main money-maker, but because of the tradition.
“There are hundreds of thousands of festival goers who obey the laws, enjoy Bikefest, respect others respect the laws,” Evans said. “And I would hate us to just turn those people away for the percentage who are not abiding by the laws. ... This Bikefest means more to us as a tradition just as much as it is the money.”
Staff reporter Amanda Kelley contributed to this report.