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Bar crowding sparks questions on public enforcement of virus safety

Published: Sep. 9, 2020 at 5:28 PM EDT
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NORTH AUGUSTA, SC. (WRDW/WAGT) - The Richmond County Sheriff’s Office says this past Friday they only found one place over capacity — a bar parking lot. But officials don’t deny there’ve been problems for at least a month.

“I think we’ve had issues with most of the bars.”

Hearing that from the sheriff’s office is not exactly a vote of confidence on how things are going.

“Our deputies have intervened in several large gatherings over the last month,” Patrick Clayton, chief deputy of RCSO, said. “We’ve really tried to concentrate on this.”

Chief Clayton says managing bars and clubs is on their proactive teams, and over the past month on Friday and Saturday nights, they’ve made 206 different bar checks.

This past Friday night, they found many places at capacity. But only one over capacity on Gordon Highway.

“We had a situation where we had a large gathering and a large fight, and our deputies were there trying to disperse the crowd,” Clayton said.

RCSO says they broke up a crowd of teenagers near the country club bar over the weekend, too.

And across the river in South Carolina, the North Augusta Department of Public Safety and city officials met with Southbound Smokehouse management after a party in their event space Sunday night broke Gov. Henry McMaster’s mandate. NADPS officers were there working specials.

We asked officials why they didn’t stop the crowds. We did not receive a response.

Back in Richmond County, officials are asking the public for help holding businesses accountable.

“If they see it, say it. Call us,” Clayton said.

If you need to report any incident at local restaurants, bars or clubs in Richmond County, you are asked to call 911 or 821-1080.

Southbound management told News 12 that they regret renting out their building and apologize for any negative impact on patrons or the community. They say are working to correct the issues moving forward.

FULL STATEMENT FROM SOUTHBOUND

“Regretfully, we rented out the event space on the upstairs portion of our building for a private event. Unfortunately, we acknowledge that rules were broken and regret any negative impact that could have on our patrons or anyone else in the community. We have spoken with the city administration and are working with public safety to correct these issues moving forward. We don’t plan to host any similar events moving forward.”

STATEMENT FROM NORTH AUGUSTA PUBLIC SAFETY

"In response to questions surrounding the weekend activities around Southbound Smokehouse at SRP Park.

Public Safety remains committed to the safety and well-being of everyone at all times. Southbound Smokehouse restaurant was open for business while also hosting a private event simultaneously upstairs. Due to the size of the party, patron numbers grew to a number in excess of the Governor’s latest coronavirus mandates for restaurants and public places. Because this event has grown into a weekly event and based on its popularity, Public Safety officials will be meeting this week with North Augusta City Council and Southbound Smokehouse representatives to address the issues. Governor McMaster’s mandate limits restaurants to 50% capacity, the wearing of masks, social distancing and stopping the sale of alcohol at 11:00pm.

Public Safety personnel appreciate those who have called with concerns about potentially unsafe environments around North Augusta. Working together in the community will in the long run, benefit everyone."

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