The surprise inspections over the weekend that led to the shutdown of four city bars including two in the bustling Five Points nightclub district were part of a routine of random city nightclub inspections, a city official said Monday.
Officials did not link the inspections to a string of violent incidents that have occurred in the Five Points area in recent months, including a Saturday shooting on Harden Street that left a man with a bullet wound to his leg. Two suspects have been arrested in connection with the latest incident.
“This is something we do periodically, and we just happened to go out this weekend,” Fire Chief Aubrey Jenkins said regarding the bar inspections.
Jenkins said four of the bars will be issued tickets for overcrowded conditions or blocked exits. But none had been issued as of Monday afternoon.
“The clubs are really not open on Mondays,” Jenkins said, explaining he expected the citations to be issued as the week goes on and city fire marshals meet with club owners.
Jenkins said that as soon as the citations have been issued he will issue a press release saying what the violations are and when the nightclub operators have to appear in court.
Overcrowding and blocked exits are serious conditions in a nightclub, Jenkins said. In the event of smoke or fire, crowds in a small and confined area can erupt in stampedes, crushing and asphyxiating people.
“There is absolutely zero tolerance for a locked or blocked exit,” Jenkins said.
The inspections took place late Saturday night and early Sunday morning. Jenkins participated in the inspections.
Jenkins said the bars to be issued citations are:
• Group Therapy, at 2107 Green St. in Five Points. With 276 people in the club, it was over capacity, Jenkins said. It was shut down for the night.
• Twist, formerly known as The Library, at 804 Harden St. in Five Points. Officials found a locked and obstructed exit and shut the place down, Jenkins said.
• T & T Lounge, at 3003 Colonial Drive. It had an exit light out and combustibles stored in an electrical room. The room was a fire danger, Jenkins said. The club was allowed to stay open since there were just a few people in the bar, Jenkins said. That club is near the intersection of Farrow Road and Colonial Drive, a half-mile or so from the Palmetto Health Richland hospital complex.
• Palace II, at 6820 Main St. in north Columbia. With 321 people in the club, officials shut it down for the night.
The exact amount of fines expected to be levied on the clubs will be determined in part by whether the clubs have been cited before for the same offense, Jenkins said. Fines likely will vary between $300 and $1,000, he added.
Jenkins said fire marshals have not yet decided whether to cite a fifth club, Jet at 700 Gervais St. in the Vista. That club had a blocked exit, but the obstruction – a box – was easily moved out of the way. That kind of impediment is not in the same category as the other, more severely blocked exits, Jenkins said.
Reach Monk at (803) 771-8344