October 15, 2013

USC: Five Points not safe after midnight

The Five Points entertainment district is no longer safe after midnight for anyone after series of crimes including a female student shot by stray bullet over the weekend, the University of South Carolina said Tuesday.

USC stopped short of asking its 31,000 students to stay away from popular neighborhood hangout of bars, restaurants and shops near campus.

USC president Harris Pastides talked with city officials Tuesday about how to the make the student hub safer. Pastides said in a statement that the shooting Sunday of an USC freshman from Greenville who was paralyzed should become a turning point for Five Points.

“USC’s students are the economic and social lifeblood of Five Points,” he said. “It is a place they go to find entertainment and it has been that way for decades. But Five Points after midnight is not currently a safe enough place for our students or for anyone.

"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,” Pastides said.

USC offered suggestions to help with Five Points: - Increase patrols by the Columbia police and Richland County Sheriff’s departments in Five Points on Thursday through Saturday nights. - Have bars close at 2 a.m.

- Make Five Points a pedestrian district on Friday and Saturday nights to ease crowding on sidewalks.

- Install new lighting and call boxes in Five Points and the surrounding areas. The school also will look at promoting activities for students on weekend nights as alternatives to Five Points.

Since classes started in fall 2012, Five Points has been the scene of at least two stabbings and four incidents of shots fired. A group of female USC students was robbed at gunpoint in April.

In the latest incident, Martha Childress was hit and paralyzed by a stray bullet after two men began arguing at 2:30 a.m. Sunday, authorities said. The 18 year old was waiting for a taxi on Harden Street.

Michael Juan Smith, 20, has been charged with assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature, possession of a firearm by a person convicted of a violent felony and other charges in connection with the shooting.

"We are very nervous about Five Points," Dennis Pruitt, the school's vice president for student affairs, said Tuesday.

Columbia has responded to recent crime in Five Points.

Police set up a substation in the district in May. Authorities also added patrols and surveillance cameras, and made a teen curfew permanent in 2011.

Benedict College, also located near Five Points, has no plans on issuing warnings to its 3,000 students, college president David Swinton said Tuesday.

He said the school shares safety tips with students, who will want to go to the closest entertainment and dining area to campus.

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