Races, sundresses, college students, cops and beer.
It’s the Carolina Cup, the rousing annual bouquet of Midlands high fashion and horse races likely to attract more than 50,000 spectators Saturday. Maybe 70,000, with good weather.
More than half are expected to be college students. Thousands will be bused to Camden from around South Carolina and other states, marking a rite of spring with hanging out and hooch. Many bring their beer with them.
And possibly hundreds will get a ticket or wind up in jail on charges of underage drinking or drunk and disorderly charges. Officials will be watching not only for drinkers under 21 but also binge drinkers who drink so much so quickly they can fall unconscious and even die.
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“Our efforts will have to have a huge presence to make the kids aware we are there – we want to be seen so they know we are there as a preventive measure,” said Camden Police Chief Joe Floyd, who will coordinate the efforts of more than 150 law enforcement officers – including 40 undercover agents on the prowl for underage drinkers – inside the race area.
“It won’t be only the Camden police,” Floyd said, adding officers from SLED and other agencies will be on hand.
Medics, firefighters and jail staff also will be there. Officers inside the race area will use video surveillance and walkie-talkies for quick responses to problem areas, Floyd said.
The main drinking “hot spot” will be in an area known as College Park, where thousands of college students erect tents, set up blasting boom boxes and party on, he said.
The chief predicted some 200 people will be charged with drinking-related offenses, but not everyone will go to jail. Most underage drinkers will be given a misdemeanor ticket if there’s no other bad conduct, he said. The fine for that offense is $440.
Along with the uniformed law officers to signify a police presence and undercover officers to nab offenders, Floyd will have medical people on hand to help those who need it.
“Any time you have excessive consumption of alcohol, you run the risk of alcohol poisoning,” Floyd said. He said such extreme drinking among a minority of youth is sadly a problem on nearly every college campus in America.
The racetrack area will have two large tents with cots where inebriated people can lie down, get hooked up to IVs and have their condition assessed by trained medical personal, including a physician, Floyd said. Two helicopters are on site, mostly for racing-related injuries, but they also can fly anyone in a major alcohol emergency to a hospital.
In all, about 250 law enforcement and medical workers will be in the track area, he said.
Another 50-plus S.C. Highway Patrol troopers, aided by some 20 Kershaw County deputies, will be patrolling the roads outside the Carolina Cup racetrack area on the lookout for DUIs and collisions caused by drunks, according to Trooper Lance Cpl. David Jones and Kershaw County Sheriff Jim Matthews.
“We see an increase in drunk drivers who make a poor decision to drive after drinking all day,” Jones said. Older drivers as well as younger ones are arrested for DUI after the race, he said.
Matthews, whose deputies were in the past stationed inside the track, said the scenes he saw of youthful drinking several years ago were worrisome.
“It was not social drinking for many of them – it was drinking pretty much to get wasted,” Matthews said. “When a lot of them got off their buses, as they walked to the track, some were so intoxicated they couldn’t walk straight. We picked them off before they got in.”
So many youths are drinking, Matthews said, that his officers were limited to targeting those who were extremely drunk or who had already passed out. “It was like binge drinking on steroids.”
Carolina Cup officials are aware of the dangers that result when youth and alcohol mix.
Every person who is bused in receives a policy brochure along with their tickets telling them about the Carolina Cup’s drinking and other policies.
“We expect everyone to follow the law and be respectful of others,” said Cup spokeswoman Maggie Davis. “We want everyone to have a fun time but a safe time as well.”
The Carolina Cup isn’t an isolated youth drinking event.
Springtime is a season when young people are exposed to more dangerous drinking environments than normal, according to the S.C. Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services (DAODAS).
Spring break, proms, graduation parties and trips to the beach, along with events such as the Carolina Cup – all are part of that danger season, said DAODAS spokesman Jimmy Mount.
DAODAS mounts a statewide education and law enforcement program, called “Out of Their Hands,” to schools and community groups each April aimed at increasing awareness of the spring season’s drinking dangers. It targets underage drinking, the dangers of drinking and driving and binge drinking, Mount said.
Adults need to be aware of the dangers of underage drinking too, Mount said.
“A lot of that alcohol at the Carolina Cup is brought there by adults. They need to understand what their liability is to make sure it doesn’t get into the wrong hands,” Mount said.
Floyd indicated his law enforcement army will have the biggest police presence yet of any of the past 82 Carolina Cup events.
“We worked hard over a lot of years to get things where they are now. But even with all the planning, you can’t predict how the day will end,” he said.
“The goal is to make sure nobody is injured or harmed in any way, ” Floyd said.
Anyone charged with drunk and disorderly behavior will have to stay in jail under they sober up, Floyd said. Fines for drinking-related offenses range from $260 to $1,092.
If you go
Saturday’s annual Carolina Cup is one of two large racing events held each year at the Springdale Race Course in Camden.
Gates open at 9 a.m. Tickets are available at carolina-cup.org and at the gate.
The first of six races is at 1:30 a.m.