March 30, 2014

City bars in Five Points, Vista and other places shut down or put on notice over weekend

Four city bars were shut down over the weekend for overcrowding, blocked exits or other unsafe conditions.

Four city bars were shut down over the weekend for overcrowding, blocked exits or other unsafe conditions.

Another bar, Jet at 700 Gervais St. in the Vista, was put on notice for having a blocked exit and may well be cited, Fire Chief Aubrey Jenkins said Sunday.

“Anytime you have a place that’s overcrowded, or with an obstructed exit, somebody could very easily be trapped inside,” Jenkins said.

“We don’t want the worst to happen.”

Jenkins said, “There is absolutely zero tolerance for a blocked exit.”

The Jet and four other bars were visited late Saturday night and on into Sunday morning by Jenkins and acting Columbia police chief Merlon Kelly. They were escorted by several police officers.

Other bars were:

•  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, which was 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 Dr. 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 located 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.

Jenkins said the owners of the bars will be asked to meet with officials from the Fire Marshal’s office on Monday.

The amount of fine expected to be levied on the clubs will be determined in part by whether the clubs have been cited before for the same offense, he said. Fines will likely vary between some $300 and $1,000, he said.

“More than likely, all of them will be cited,” Jenkins said.

“With a locked or blocked exit, it is impossible to get out,” Jenkins said.

“With overcrowding, you have so many people trying to get out that it could block an exit when they clog it up.”

Jenkins mentioned a 2003 nightclub fire in Rhode Island, when 100 people were killed as they blocked exits in their wild stampede to escape deadly fire and smoke inside. Overcrowding was a key cause in the high toll, he said.

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