COLUMBIA — Calling it a turning point in a rash of high-profile crimes, University of South Carolina President Harris Pastides said Tuesday the Five Points entertainment district is no longer safe after midnight and called for Columbia to add police patrols to the area after a female student was paralyzed by a stray bullet fired over the weekend.
The Columbia City Council started to act on another of Pastides’ suggestions, agreeing to consider making all bars citywide close at 2 a.m.
Pastides considered asking USC’s 31,000 students to boycott the popular neighborhood hangout of bars, restaurants and shops after meeting on Monday with Martha Childress’ family in the hospital. Pastides said his anger was eased by talking to students and hearing Childress, an 18-year-old freshman, wants to come back to school.
“This has been one of the roughest weeks of my presidency,” said Pastides, who was among the hundreds who attended a Monday vigil. “One person in particular talked about 9/11, and ‘We’re not going to give in to the bad guys. This is our community.’ But I do think students need to have increased confidence that when they go down there, they will be safer.”
Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin said the city and the university have not reached a breaking point over Five Points violence.
“The fortunes and future of the University of South Carolina and the city of Columbia are inextricably intertwined and have been for 212 years,” said Benjamin, a former USC student body president. “And that won’t change.”
USC students and parents as well as Five Points merchants expressed frustration about the violence. The city will hold a special community meeting about security at 5:30 p.m., Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the early Sunday morning shooting led to an age-rule change at the S.C. State Fair. “In response to recent incidents of violence elsewhere in our city,” the fair said it will raise the age of youths who need an adult companion for admission after 7 p.m. to 18 from 16, starting Wednesday.
Since classes started at USC in fall 2012, Five Points has been the scene of at least two stabbings and four incidents of shots fired.
Childress was waiting for a taxi on Harden Street in front of the Five Points fountain when she was struck by a stray bullet after two men began arguing at 2:30 a.m., Sunday, authorities said.
The Greenville native was paralyzed. She remains hospitalized at Palmetto Health Richland.
Police arrested Michael Juan Smith – who had avoided long sentences in Richland County courtrooms on two burglary charges in recent years – in connection with the shooting. Smith was released on parole in February after serving 10 months of a two-year sentence for a probation violation, authorities said.
In a statement issued earlier Tuesday, Pastides called USC students “the economic and social lifeblood of Five Points.”
“However, it is evident that Five Points after midnight is not currently a safe enough place for our students or for anyone,” the statement said. “Today we call on our friends, including the City of Columbia, Richland County, S.C. Law Enforcement Division, Five Points businesses and local neighborhood associations to stand up to better protect USC students and everyone in Five Points.”
• Requiring all bars to close at 2 a.m.
• Increasing patrols by the Columbia police and adding patrols by the Richland County Sheriff’s Department, Thursday through Saturday nights.
• Making Five Points a pedestrian district on Friday and Saturday nights to ease crowding on sidewalks. Now, sidewalks become congested with bar customers who step outside to smoke and large groups of revelers hopping from bar to bar.
• Installing new lighting and call boxes in Five Points and the surrounding areas.