Visitors in Myrtle Beach for Atlantic Beach Memorial Day Bikefest said that while they enjoyed themselves, they were bothered by traffic pattern changes and thought the increased police presence was overkill.
Donel Rose of Florence, who was in town with his sons for his seventh Bikefest, said his experience was “weird.”
“It felt like a militarized unit,” he said, speaking of the hundreds of officers on Ocean Boulevard all weekend, many in camouflage. “The presence was too strong. Last year was the best time I had in my life. They took one incident and blew it out of proportion.”
His son, Sherman Rose of Killeen, Texas, agreed.
“It felt safe, but it was a constricted safe,” he said.
Three people died and seven were injured in eight shootings at hotels on Ocean Boulevard during Memorial Day weekend last year, prompting Grand Strand officials to put several measures in place, such as a 23-mile traffic loop and installing pedestrian barricades, in an attempt to keep things safe this year.
There were two reported shootings at Compass Cove Resort this weekend; one resulted in injuries. Police charged Craig Tallambadge Williams with attempted murder and possession of a weapon during a violent crime. A municipal court judge set a $150,000 cash surety bond for Williams. He was being held at J. Reuben Long Detention Center as of Monday afternoon.
Reported incidents of violence in Ocean Boulevard hotels is not confined to Memorial Day weekend. A double-homicide happened at Landmark Resort in March, and an attempted armed robbery and shooting happened at Summer Sands Motel last week.
City spokesman Mark Kruea said it was unfortunate that the criminal element still occurred despite all of the security changes made for the weekend.
“And the loss of life in vehicle accidents is extremely sad,” he said. “Random acts of violence and dangerous driving, resulting in accidents, are hard to plan or prepare for.”
Three people died in vehicle crashes along the Grand Strand during this past weekend. Two people also died in swimming incidents; a third remains missing after disappearing in the Ocean on Saturday.
Myrtle Beach police spokesman Lt. Joey Crosby said police were pleased with the overall performance of the operational plan.
“What we got a lot of compliments from motorists on was the pedestrian barricades,” Crosby said. “It allowed them to travel down the road in a safe manner and keep people from walking into the streets.”
Crosby said he also felt the loop worked well in keeping drivers moving during the overnight hours.
“We’re going into the critique phase now where we’ll examine everything and get feedback, then begin planning for next year,” Crosby said.
Visitors, however, said they did not think the loop worked well - at all.
“That loop thing that they had going on?” said Damian McCants, a motorcyclist with the Str8 Up Fools out of Columbia. “I actually put a post on Facebook saying that if somebody could explain to me one purpose of it, I would buy them something.”
McCants said one of his friends needed to get three blocks north of where they were hanging out on Ocean Boulevard to get back to the hotel and ended up having to go around all 23 miles of the loop to get there.
The loop, which was to be in effect nightly from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. during the weekend, routed drivers from 29th Avenue North in Myrtle Beach on Ocean Boulevard south and around to Kings Highway, north to Harrelson Boulevard – which turns into George Bishop Parkway – west to Waccamaw Boulevard, which runs next to U.S. 501, onto S.C. 31 heading north to Grissom Parkway south, then onto U.S. 17 Bypass and down 29th Avenue North.
“I kept saying it was like a bad episode of Cinderella,” he said. “When it was about to be 10 o’clock, it was like, ‘OK, it’s about to turn into a pumpkin.’”
Latoya Taylor of Atlanta said many people would just stay in their hotels from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. to avoid dealing with the loop.
“I got stuck in it coming back from Wal-Mart,” she said. “It took me three hours to get to my hotel. It should have taken 10 minutes. ... And I had medication in the room [for a chronic condition] that I need to take at the same time every day. It was a problem.”
Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Brad Dean said Sunday night the chamber handled more calls about the traffic loop than about safety issues this weekend.
The chamber lobbied the S.C. General Assembly last year to approve an amendment that allows up to one third of accommodations tax money returned to Horry County – or municipalities in Horry County – to be set aside to pay for public safety during events held in May. Dean said the chamber is asking for that same amendment going into next year’s budget.
“We’ve had a steady stream of inquiries this weekend, but mostly about the traffic loop,” Dean said. “It really started Thursday and kept steady through [Sunday].”
Dean said he was pleased with what the traffic loop accomplished.
“Safety must be a top priority for our community,” Dean said. “The plans put in place this year have enabled local officials to observe more control over an otherwise uncontrollable, chaotic situation.”
“There really was no dress rehearsal for the traffic loop,” Dean said. “All things considered, it accomplished its purpose.”
Taylor said people she’s spoken with have said they might not come back to Myrtle Beach because of the changes.
“On a financial level, they’ll lose a lot of money if everyone gets together and decides not to come back,” she said.
But McCants, who has attended Bikefest for 21 years, said he wasn’t sure if he would stay away in the future.
“That’s what they want,” he said of city officials. “That’s why they put all these things in place. To make it so that we wouldn’t come back.”
Rose said he knows he won’t let the changes run him off.
“I’m definitely coming back,” he said. “I just hope they tone it down next year.”
Staff reporter Jason M. Rodriguez contributed to this report.
Contact MAYA T. PRABHU at 444-1722 or on Twitter @TSN_mprabhu.