City, county authorities dealing with rash of gun violence

nophillips@thestate.comSeptember 24, 2013 

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  • A rash of shootings

    Between Sept. 14-22, Columbia police and Richland County sheriff’s deputies responded to 21 incidents where gun violence was reported. Six of those incidents resulted in deaths, including two suicides. Here are the other four fatal incidents.

    Sept. 14: Zelda D. Kollock, 51, is shot to death in front of her home on Cottontail Court. Richland County sheriff’s deputies charge John Washington, 58, with murder. Kollock and Washington had dated, and Kollock had tried to end the relationship, deputies said. Washington wrecked his car after fleeing the scene and was hospitalized.

    Sept. 16: A Richland County sheriff’s deputy kills Mitchell St. Clair Jr., 39, in a shootout. St. Clair fired at the deputy after a chase that started near the Woodfield Park subdivision and ended on East Boundary Road near Faraway Drive. The Sheriff’s Department found that the shooting was justified, and SLED is investigating.

    Sept. 19: After responding to a call of shots fired at a Hunt Club Road convenience store, Richland County sheriff’s deputies find Robert H. Jewell, 51, dead in a vehicle. Dequan Vereen, 19, and Tevin Richardson, 21, were charged with murder in connection with the shooting.

    Sept. 22: A woman who was a passenger in a car was shot in the head while riding along West Campanella Drive. Amanda F. McKemie, 22, of Gaston died later in the day. Monday, Columbia police charged Deante Dominic-Ali Wittich, 16, with murder, adding he is expected to be tried as an adult.

Columbia and Richland County law enforcement officers have responded to 21 shootings in eight days, including two outbreaks of gun violence Sunday that left a woman dead and three people injured.

While authorities say it is an usually high number for such a short period, there is no single cause or reason behind the rash of shootings.

“You’ve got people shooting all over the place,” Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said Monday. “We’ve got hoodlums out here with guns that think they can solve everything with those guns.”

Among the most recent incidents, 22-year-old Amanda F. McKemie of Gaston died Sunday after being shot in the head while riding as a passenger in a car on West Campanella Drive in the Greenview neighborhood, Columbia police say. A teenager has been arrested and charged with murder.

And three people were injured Sunday after being shot outside Side Pockets nightclub on Hazlewood Road, off Garners Ferry Road, the Richland County Sheriff’s Department reported. In that incident, club bouncers had kicked out multiple people, who came back and began firing into the crowd, Lott said. Those injuries were not life-threatening.

Other episodes of gun violence between Sept. 14 and 22 include a domestic-violence-related killing, a shootout between Richland County deputies and a suspect, an accidental shooting between roommates, a drive-by shooting and at least one case in which the victim would not cooperate with police.

One case involved a father shooting at a suspected intruder, who ended up being his daughter’s boyfriend sneaking into their house. Each department also included in their reports a suicide committed with a gun.

Of the 21 shootings, 14 occurred in Richland County while the Columbia Police Department reported seven. Six of the 21 incidents resulted in death. Still, both agencies said their overall violent crime rates had dropped in the past year.

The shootings have taken place in all parts of the city and county. Suspects have ranged in age from 18 to 60, and victims’ ages have been between 19 and 57.

Gang violence has been on the rise in Columbia and Richland County. Not every case in the recent rash has been connected to gangs, but authorities said a fair number most likely were. That includes Sunday night’s shooting death of McKemie, Interim Police Chief Ruben Santiago said.

“Gun violence and gangs go hand-in-hand,” Lott said.

Earlier this year, Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin and Santiago introduced a new partnership between police and the faith-based community to curb gang growth. And Santiago said his officers would crack down on gangs and guns in Five Points to bring that late-night party area under control.

Lott described the past week’s rash of gun violence as a snapshot of what happens every week in Columbia and Richland County, except on a larger scale.

Neither law enforcement agency has been able to pinpoint a pattern to the shootings. But Lott and Santiago said the shootings were not random. Instead, the shooters had motives or specific targets, they said.

Residents don’t care which jurisdictions the shootings happen in, Santiago said. They just want suspects locked up and reassurance that they are safe.

“The ones we’re most concerned about are the ones we respond to that are the result of an altercation,” Santiago said. “Those are the scary ones.”

The sheriff and police chief pledged to continue work to stop the violence and arrest those who pull the trigger.

“They all get caught,” Lott said.

Reach Phillips at (803) 771-8307.

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