A wild but brief gun battle erupted Friday morning on Broad River Road outside Columbia after an armed man attempted to rob a video game players’ store and the owner decided to fight back, police said.
The owner, who has not been identified, pulled his own and shot at the robber, who fled into the parking lot, spilling money he had just stolen.
The robber was struck “multiple times” but managed to fire back at the owner, said public information officer Sgt. Brittany Scott with the Richland County Sheriff’s Department.
Neither the owner nor anyone else was hit during the flurry of gunfire.
“The suspect had his handgun out and was demanding money,” Scott said. “The owner also had a handgun.”
After trading shots with the owner, the robber jumped into a black Nissan Altima was driven away by two accomplices, Scott said. Deputies arrested him an hour later in a nearby neighborhood where he had been left.
Scott said the robbery suspect walked into Gamerz, 2700 Broad River Road in St. Andrews, and tried to rob a half dozen patrons of their wallets and money around 10 a.m. Friday.
Gamerz is a store where people go to play xbox and other video games. It is one of about 10 businesses, including a telephone wireless store, a Chinese restaurant and a pawn shop, in a small shopping center astride the busy Broad River Road corridor.
Scott said the alleged robber was shot mostly in the upper body.The robber reportedly returned fire in the parking lot as he fled the scene in a black Nissan Altima with two other suspects.
The glass front door of Gamerz was shattered by the gunfire. Piles of broken glass lay on the sidewalk sparkling in the daylight, and a half-dozen bullet casings littered the parking lot outside Gamerz.
The alleged robber and his accomplices drove about two miles west, to the corner of Alcunbury Drive off Newnham Drive, where a citizen notified law enforcement, who were able to apprehend them, Scott said.
“The suspect was out there bleeding, and the black Nissan was in someone’s driveway,” Scott said.
The wounded suspect was then transported for Palmetto Health Richland hospital for his injuries, He is in stable condition, Scott said.
Geno Furarra, 30, manager of Cricket Wireless, was doing paperwork just a few stores away from Gamerz when he heard loud noises outside.
“At first I thought it was just contruction pounding. I didn’t realize it was shooting. But then it got intense – boom! boom! boom! –and I realized it was gunshots,” Furarra said. “So I went outside.”
There, he saw several men – customers of Gamerz – picking up money in the parking lot as well as the Gamerz’ owner. He was unhurt but seemed a little tense, as would be natural after a gunfight, Furarra said.
The owner is a good man with a fine family, Furarra said. “He’s a very nice dude. I don’t blame him. If I was the owner of a business like him, I would do the same thing.”
Another suspect was detained by deputies, while the third fled on foot and was being hunted by the law Friday afternoon.
Scott said deputies are still working this case.
“We are still in the preliminary stages,” she said.
Investigators will also be looking to see if the Gamerz owner acted lawfully. “We want to make sure his shots were justifiable and that he was in the right to do so,” Scott said.
Such checking is normal when police investigate a shooting. For one thing, if there is a trial, the owner will be a likely key witness and prosecutors need to be sure the circumstances they present to a jury can withstand scrutiny by a defense lawyer.
Columbia defense attorney Jack Swerling said Friday that the law allows people to have weapons in their homes, businesses and cars. Generally speaking, it is lawful for a person to have a gun to protect themselves and others for self-defense reasons – and also to prevent the commission of a crime – if the person is in one of those locales, Swerling said.
According to Richland County sheriff’s department records, Gamerz was robbed by three men, one of them armed with a pistol, last June.
The robbers came into Gamerz, knocked one person to the floor, and stole money and cell phones from the owner and two customers. The robbers then ran out and jumped into a waiting car, the report said.
In January, a robber holding up a barbershop on Fort Jackson Boulevard was shot and killed by the barber and one of his customers.
lmurray "Billy" Bookman was cutting hair at his barber station, the second chair from the door, when two masked men, one wielding a pistol and the other carrying a shotgun, entered Next Up Barber & Beauty, he said.
Minutes later, Bookman and one of his customers drew their weapons as the robbers were taking money from customers and employees. They fired shots that left one of the suspects dead and sent another on the run just before 7 p.m. Friday.
"The kids were crying, hollering, and their parents were hollering," Bookman said. "I think (the suspects) were getting kind of frustrated. They started putting their hands on some of the customers."
About 20 people, including several women and children, were at the barbershop on Fort Jackson Boulevard. It sits behind the Applebee’s restaurant on Devine Street, across from the Cross Hill Market that houses Whole Foods.
Bookman said he just wanted to protect the crowd of people inside the shop.
The men forced one of the shop’s customers and one of the barbers to the floor, Bookman said. Then the man with the pistol started taking money out of the pockets of the barbers’
jackets, he said.
When asked for his money, the customer in Bookman’s chair told the suspect with the pistol that his money was at a chair along the wall, Bookman said.
When that suspect turned his back to go search the customers sitting along the wall, Bookman’s client pulled his own gun and fired at the suspect. Bookman, too, pulled his weapon out and shot at the suspect, he said.
"I was thinking we had to keep everybody safe," he said.
At the first sound of gunshots, the suspect carrying the shotgun turned and ran out the front door, Bookman said. The man with the pistol ran out the back door, down the steps and down the street. He was found and taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead a short time later, police said.