Catawba River rescuer of 9 jailed in Rock Hill for illegal business solicitation

ColumnistJuly 26, 2013 

— In the space of 17 days, Stanley Smith went from hero to handcuffs – all at the same spot along the Catawba River where he helped save nine strangers from the swollen water.

Smith could end up in jail for a month if he is found guilty of what police claim is selling scooters without a city business license.

“I’d do it again in a heartbeat – the best day of my life,” Smith’s said of July 6, when he risked his own life for others.

But Tuesday wound up as one of the worst days of his life after Smith was handcuffed, hauled off to jail and his truck was impounded. Police charged him with trying to sell scooters without a license – in the same place he pulled nine people out of the river.

“I don’t understand it,” Smith said. “They put me in jail for advertising. And I wasn’t even there to sell. I was there to go fishin’.”

Phillip Plumadore of McConnells was outraged when he heard that the man who had rescued him, his daughter and others in his family had been arrested for something seemingly so trivial.

Plumadore was stuck in rushing water on that July 6 when Smith – a stranger before that moment – waded in with nothing but a rope and guts.

“It’s horrible!” Plumadore said. “It’s not right. That guy came right into the river to get us. He was a civilian. Then he helped others. Talk about a miscarriage of justice. This is plain injustice.”

On that July Saturday, the high river stranded nine rafters – two of them children – near Riverwalk Park, a Rock Hill city park near the U.S. 21 bridge, according to the Rock Hill Fire Department report of the incident.

Smith, there at the park that day, grabbed a rope from his truck when he saw the emergency crews from the Rock Hill Rescue Squad arriving.

“I found four (people) at first,” he said, “and I went out there with the rope and with the security guard there. His one arm was in a sling, but he still helped. He had a stick and one guy holding him to keep him from falling in the water. We pulled them out.

“People were scared of the roots and stuff in the water out there, but I been on this river all my life.”

Smith was told by that first group that others farther down the river needed help, too, so he headed that way and used his rope to bring them in.

Plumadore said police should not put a hero in jail.

But police and city officials say they had fielded recent complaints about Smith at the park.

There were “several complaints over several days” to city staff about Smith disrupting people on the trail, city spokeswoman Katie Quinn said.

The Rock Hill Police Department incident report from Tuesday states two officers “observed Smith selling Wing flyer bikes at Riverwalk. Smith had five bicycles and advertising in and around his vehicle.”

Smith initially told police he had a business license with the city, the report states, but then acknowledged he didn’t have one when an officer said he would check city records.

However, Smith said Friday that he never told police he had a city business license.

“I wasn’t selling anything,” he said. “I told them I had a state business license, and I don’t live in the city. I live in the county.”

A Rock Hill business license is required for anyone to sell products inside the city limits, whether the person lives in the city or not, Quinn said.

So Smith was arrested, his truck towed.

City Parks, Recreation and Tourism workers keep close tabs on the trails, police spokesman Mark Bollinger said. Smith had been involved in a prior incident, Bollinger said, during which he was advised about the problems with his activities at the park.

For the past few weeks, Smith said, he has sold Carolina WingFlyer scooters – also known as step cycles – and let kids ride them at parks, with their parents’ permission.

He had magnetic signs made up for his truck, and often has scooters in the back of the truck. Smith admitted city officials had told him before Tuesday to “cease and desist” selling at the park, and he said he followed that order.

Smith described the signs and scooters in the truck as “guerrilla marketing” and advertising, but he said he only sells from his home.

On Tuesday, he said, he took his fishing gear down to the riverbank, then took his truck back up to the parking lot. That’s when Smith said officers approached.

Because Smith was given a citation – a uniform traffic ticket – police could have simply ticketed him for the alleged business violation and allowed him to leave. But officers instead arrested Smith, took him to jail and impounded his truck.

Smith had to pay $470 to bond out of jail, plus $125 to get his truck back.

He also was ordered by the judge who set his bail not to go back to Riverwalk until the case is resolved. A court date is set for Aug. 22. If found guilty, he could face up to 30 days in jail.

On Friday, Smith asked for a public defender to help with his case, but a judge has yet to act on that request.

The court case likely will turn into a battle over Smith’s right to engage in business and have sings on his vehicle versus the city’s claim that Smith was selling without a license.

At Smith’s house Friday, friend Bob Garrison called the city’s handling of the situation “bureaucracy at its worst.”

And Smith – who helped rescue nine people at Riverwalk on July 6 – is now barred for at least the next month from going back to the very place where he used his guts and courage to risk his life for strangers.

Andrew Dys •  803-329-4065 •  adys@heraldonline.com

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