Council going after park vandals

A vandal caused $1,500 in damages to the park grounds. | Contributed

BLYTHEWOOD – After the latest in what has been years of varying degrees of vandalism in the town park, Blythewood Town Council is cracking down. At last week’s town council meeting, members talked about more diligently pressing charges against park vandals and taking new steps to deter vandalism in the future.

Teen Arrested

The crackdown began in earnest on Jan. 9 after a Blythewood teenager was arrested for digging deep tracks and ‘donuts’ in the grass in the park with his pickup truck, causing approximately $1,500 in damage.

The incident was captured on the town park’s surveillance cameras in conjunction with a group of teens who are now using the park as a nightly hangout, according to Steve Hasterok, Director of the Conference and Events Center for Doko Manor and the park.

Hasterok told Richland County Sheriff’s deputies that the problem had been ongoing.

While the town did not take the ‘donut’ case to court, the town’s attorney, Shannon Burnett, working with Town Administrator Carroll Williamson and Mayor Bryan Franklin, reached a settlement that Burnett calls ‘stiff,’ with the teen’s attorney.

“The young man came and apologized in person to town officials. He was required to pay $1,500 for the damages and must work 40 hours at the park. Except for his required work there, he is banned from the park for two years,” Burnett said. “If he completes these requirements, the issue is settled. If not, we have the option to prosecute, and we will.

“He’s a good kid, and I think he is truly remorseful. He’s worried about this causing him problems getting in to college. While we have no desire to cause him more trauma, I do feel it was a strong, good agreement that will keep him and, hopefully, others from vandalizing the park in the future,” Burnett said.

 “We also sent a message to the group of young people who are using the park at night as their hangout. We let them know that we are cracking down on their misuse of the park, that it won’t be tolerated any longer. And it won’t,” Burnett emphasized.

New Security Options

To that end, council is looking to take further steps to stop the vandalism in the park, including upgrading surveillance cameras so they will pick up greater detail, keeping a closer eye on park goings-on after dark, pressing charges for any degree of vandalism, posting no-trespassing signs and, perhaps, installing an additional gate just past the town Christmas tree in front of Town Hall. That is the only remaining road open to the park after hours.

“We’ve had vandals breaking lights along the walking trails and ladies are complaining about harassment as they go on morning and evening walks,” Franklin said. At least one man has been prosecuted for harassment in the park.

But Franklin said deterrents are not as easy and effective as they sound.

Councilman Eddie Baughman suggested “No Loitering” signs be posted.

“That’s all fine and good,” Councilman Donald Brock said, “but loitering in our park is not going to be high on the Richland County Sheriff’s list of things to enforce.”

After the suggestion was made to install a gate in front of town hall, the park’s only engress and egress after the park closes, Councilman Sloan Griffin asked who would ‘sweep’ the park every evening to be sure everyone was out of the park before the last gate is closed.

As far as the additional gate at Town Hall, both Franklin and Hasterok pointed out several other out-of-the-way areas that would still be open to traffic.

While council generally agreed on the idea of getting bids for an additional gate, Hasterok emphasized the need for more cameras and upgrading the cameras currently in the park, especially in the athletic fields, along McLean Road and in the playground area.

No vote was taken on the issue Monday night.

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