A troubled scene of drugs, homelessness, prostitution in the heart of Myrtle Beach

Crime a problem along Myrtle Beach’s main corridor

Property owners complain that drugs, prostitution, and vagrancy are a constant issues on Third Avenue South, one of Myrtle Beach's main corridors.
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Property owners complain that drugs, prostitution, and vagrancy are a constant issues on Third Avenue South, one of Myrtle Beach's main corridors.

Beverly Pridgen Davidson doesn’t feel safe on her own property.

She’s owned land along 3rd Avenue South for decades, but the property crimes, homelessness, prostitution and drugs have never been this bad before, she said.

“Lots of times when we drive up there are people all over the front porch laying down and all over the place. Some might be standing up, some may be passed out,” she said standing on her property in front of the Liberty Tax office.

Third Avenue South has long been a main gateway into Myrtle Beach off U.S. Highway 501 that leads straight to the pounding ocean surf. Now – like other parts of Myrtle Beach and Horry County – the land is blighted by heroin.

“I do not feel safe on these properties and I’m worried that I’ll lose the tenants that I now have, especially Liberty Tax because some people don’t even like to come to this part of town,” Davidson said. “There’s a lot of tenants that wouldn’t stay. It is dangerous here.”

Landscapers “quit on me left and right,” she says. “They have people that will come right up to their truck, while they’re here, and try to steal things out of their truck.”

A spotlight was cast on the area after Christian Sichitano, part owner of Myrtle Beach Golf Carts on 3rd Avenue South, posted a video on Facebook of a man fading in and out of consciousness in a yard across the street last month. The man appeared to be high on drugs.

The video was captured by a Myrtle Beach resident on Friday, Oct. 13 in the area of 3rd Ave. S. and Broadway St.

Earlier this week, Sichitano said, she saw another man stumbling down the sidewalk and then stagger into the street. He made it to the other side unscathed.

“People are just not even discreet about their activity anymore. They do it right out in the open in broad daylight,” Sichitano said.

An overturned shopping cart rests by a building along 3rd Avenue North near a tube of fungus treatment and a dismantled inhaler. EMILY WEAVER

‘There’s no hiding it’

When Davidson had her roof reshingled, she said she had to buy the shingles twice. The first ones were stolen hours after they were delivered, she said.

Landscapers also fear getting stuck by a stray needle while they work, Davidson added.

The land at the back of the Liberty Tax Service office at 1007 3rd Avenue South and the storage building on the parcel behind it were littered with needles, condom wrappers, cigarette butts, the occasional empty beer can and a full tube of fungus ointment on Oct. 26.

130 incidents along 3rd Avenue South in the city limits have been investigated by Myrtle Beach police over the first 10 months of 2016

Dozens of Q-tips stripped of the cotton, often used to filter drugs for intravenous injections, were strewn near an overflowing trash can.

An empty pill bottle rested at the foot of a tree, two feet away from a pile of excrement.

“Their toilet is right over there, right up next to that building,” Davidson said, pointing to a shop nearby. “Most of the people out here are on heroin. It’s just sort of like the triple threat with the heroin, the homelessness and the prostitution.”

Sichitano said she’s seen it, too: the drug paraphernalia and human waste around her business. The workers sometimes have to chase loiterers off of the property, she added.

“It’s obvious what they’re doing. There’s no hiding it,” she said. “The prostitution is obvious, too.”

But it wasn’t always this way.

Coastal Carolina University released a series of PSAs featuring recovering addicts, family members of addicts and county officials who speak about the heroin epidemic along the Grand Strand.

The history of 3rd

Five decades ago, 3rd Avenue South was a two-lane corridor shooting off U.S. 501 that brought visitors right to the Swamp Fox Roller Coaster, said Myrtle Beach City Councilman Wayne Gray.

The “heavily traveled tourist road” also “went right by two of the oldest neighborhoods that Myrtle Beach has: Withers Swash … and Ramsey Acres, just south of 3rd Avenue,” he said.

“Withers Swash is one of the oldest inhabited areas on the South Carolina Grand Strand and is named for one of the earliest landowners in Horry County – the Withers family,” according to the S.C. History Trail site. “Sometime in the 1700s, James and Mary Cartwright Withers established Withers Plantation here and built a home on a bluff overlooking the tidal creek – known locally as a ‘swash’ – which emptied into the Atlantic.”

120 calls for service have been reported to Horry County police along parts of 3rd Avenue South from January to October

“For many years, Withers Swash was the center of life in Myrtle Beach,” Gray said. “Third Avenue South was a main artery for both tourists and locals as things developed from the ‘30s to the ‘70s.”

Then the mall and shopping centers came enticing customers to leave the commercial sectors they once knew, Gray said.

“That’s when you began to see some change,” Gray said. But 3rd Avenue South “is still fairly used as a road for people coming into Myrtle Beach.”

With traffic counts expected to increase and the number of wrecks rising, the city partnered with the S.C. Department of Transportation and utility companies to improve the roadway through the Grand Strand Area Transportation Study in 2008.

DOT crews began widening the roadway in 2012. New sidewalks were built and utility lines were buried. The city partnered with the county to clear the way for a new multi-purpose path to connect Newtown Park to the Withers Swash trail.

But in the hustle and bustle of improvements to the area, the heroin epidemic emerged.

A needle pokes up through the leaves near trash behind a building along 3rd Avenue South. EMILY WEAVER

Donut hole

Davidson’s and Sichitan’s situations are complicated. Their two plots of land sit in a donut hole of about five acres along 3rd Avenue South, outside the arresting power of Myrtle Beach police. The land is surrounded by city property, but this is the county’s jurisdiction.

From January to October, Horry County police have received 120 calls for service in and near the donut hole, 23 of which resulted in investigations, according to data released by the Horry County Police Department.

Krystal Dotson, Horry County police spokeswoman, released the following statement on the area by email:

“As you noticed in the stats previously sent, this location is not an apparent issue regarding the volume of calls for service. Per the South Precinct, there are areas that are considered to be ‘high crime’ areas but those are the City of Myrtle Beach’s jurisdiction. Donut holes such as this can cause an extra level of difficulty in policing as they are often a far distance from the main areas that we would concentrate our patrols.”

“As a result,” she continued, “officers have to make a conscious effort to patrol that area which they successfully do on a consistent and intentional basis. The best way however to combat this issue is a solid partnership with the surrounding cities.”

When asked by email about response times to the area, drug activity in the area, if there have been complaints from business owners or residents, and what people can do to help police in the area, Dotson stated the following by email:

“Our numbers are not showing that area to be a high crime community with a large volume of calls for service,” she said, suggesting The Sun News call the Myrtle Beach Police Department.

In the city

Myrtle Beach police have investigated 130 incidents and made 160 arrests along 3rd Avenue South in the city limits over the first 10 months of 2017. Those numbers do not include the calls for service that did not warrant further investigation.

Myrtle Beach officers patrol that area every day, said Capt. Joey Crosby of the Myrtle Beach Police Department. Patrols are beefed up when the department’s crime analyst notices increased criminal activity in a specific region or when officers hear of concerns in the community.

Someone at a Withers Swash neighborhood watch meeting complained about crime in the area a couple of months ago, so police zeroed in.

Withers Swash is one of the oldest inhabited areas on the South Carolina Grand Strand.

“We had officers that went to that area, saturated that area, conducted an operation there for a couple of days in which we had a heavy presence of law enforcement to address issues there,” Crosby said. “We will continue to do that whether it be the Withers Swash, or some other place in the city.”

Myrtle Beach police arresting powers vanish in the donut hole, but city officers are still able to intervene and detain suspects until county police arrive, Crosby said.

While donut holes can sometimes be a challenge for law enforcement, Crosby says they rely on the strong partnerships they’ve built to overcome that hurdle.

“We also understand that crime is not just confined, or a criminal act is not just confined to the county or the city,” Crosby said. “We’re in a unique place to where we’re very close to each other. That’s why we spend a lot of time communicating with our partners in law enforcement and we share information.”

Advocates say it will take the whole community to combat its growing opioid addiction.

“The heroin epidemic that we’re facing is not limited to 3rd Avenue South,” Gray said. “It’s plaguing our community everywhere and it’s going to take everybody to be a part of that solution.”

Emily Weaver: 843-444-1722, @EmilyWORDWeaver

Elizabeth Townsend: 843-626-0217, @TSN_etownsend