COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Red and blue flashing lights, patients being loaded into ambulances, and the glimmer of yellow crime scene tape: those are the images that greeted Kirkman Finlay when he woke up Sunday morning after Columbia police say three innocent bystanders were shot near the intersection of Harden and Greene Streets in Five Points.
"Can you imagine the parents and what they're going through right now – of those people that were just innocent bystanders?" said Finlay, who's a state representative and the owner of the hamburger restaurant Pawley's Front Porch in Five Points. "We've got to fix it."
The "it" he's referring to is Five Points, a place that some say is an eclectic village of shops by day and a place for college kids to get drunk by night.
When high profile crimes happen in Five Points, it hurts Finlay. His restaurant is losing money each night—as soon as the sun sets. Between dusk and closing, he estimates that he's lost about 30% of his sales. The perception of crime also drives many away, he said. It's gotten so bad that Finlay has slashed the restaurant's hours.
Additionally, Finlay said moving Pawley's to a new location is a thought that has crossed his mind.
"We've seen other restaurants [leave] Five Points," Finlay said. "I can't have a business that closes at eight o'clock."
For that reason, Finlay is watching closely as the city tries to tackle the problem. Councilman Howard Duvall has pitched a plan that would close bars earlier. Right now, about 20 bars in Five Points have special permits that allow them to stay open all night. Duvall's plan would end the special permits, forcing the bars to close no later than 2 AM.
"I think we've passed the tipping point, and the shooting might be an indication of that," Duvall said. "I think Five Points is schizophrenic. I think they have a daytime image, and they have a nighttime image."
Duvall's plan has been blasted by critics who say it won't work. Some have argued, if Duvall's ordinance passes, the problem will move up earlier in the evening or to house parties – closer to the neighbors who have grown tired of the annoyance and the crime that comes along with it.
Finlay, however, said any measure to change the Five Points culture might be worth a shot, along with anything else that'll end the downward spiral before it's too late.
"If it means we shut bars earlier, great. ID harder, fine. Close roads, fine. Flood it with cops, great," he said. "Whatever we need to do to fix the problem that we all know is there. And, we need to talk about it."
To combat the problem though, Five Points leaders must first acknowledge there is one, Finlay said.
"We're dealing with thugs. It's thugs. It's a very small group preying on a large group. It's the wolves and the sheep," Finlay said. "This issue has become paramount. People do not believe it's safe in Five Points."
Chief Skip Holbrook, meanwhile, said whatever is decided he needs ordinances that give his men and women more teeth to go after the violators here in Five Points and wherever.
The city's public safety committee is expected to make a recommendation on Duvall's ordinance on Tuesday.