COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Thousands of fairgoers from across the state have been pouring into Columbia to enjoy games, rides, and sweet treats, but finding a place to park is proving a challenge for some visitors.
The Richland County Sheriff’s Department said one man, Michael Davenport, took advantage of this and convinced fairgoers into paying to park in a business lot that he doesn’t own and that wasn’t open to the public.
Police say after catching him in the act Wednesday night he was arrested. He’s been charged with breach of trust and obtaining goods under false pretenses.
T&T Sports is not open for fair parking and is blocked off with flags and cones, but many businesses choose to host parking for a price. This is something police and fair security said makes it difficult for visitors to determine which parking lots are real and which aren’t.
“Some people are looking to prey on people who are just coming to have a good time,” State Fair Director of Safety Matt Laschuma said.
The fair offers $5 parking at its official parking lot seen here on this map to 4000 vehicles. There are two entrances, one at gate 6 on Assembly Street and the other at gate 10 on Bluff road.
But many businesses including Seawell’s, which is next to T&T Sports, also hosts parking for fairgoers.
“They have signage. They have attendants. They are very professional,” Laschuma said.
These are things that make many visitors feel safe.
“We always come and park at this area. We like it because it’s real secure safe,” fair visitor Tammy Mosley said.
“We generally like to park somewhere that has the police department around because it’s just an added safety measure, especially with children,” fair visitor Bobby Robinson said.
Deputies said that it’s up to businesses whether they allow fairgoers to park in their lots or if they choose to charge.
“Just pay attention to your surroundings. If it looks different and it looks suspicious, don’t park there,” Richland County Sheriff Department Sergeant Kellye Hendrick said.
Hendrick recommended that fairgoers park in well-lit parking lots with attendees to avoid scams, car break-ins, or a stolen vehicle. These are all things that Hendrick said has happened in the first few days of the fair this year.
“I think it’s just people being from out of town and people taking advantage of people who aren’t from here and don’t know any better on where to park and where they can park,” Hendrick said.
State fair officials said they are offering a free shuttle service from the state museum parking lot to the North Gate on the weekends in an effort to give people a free and safe parking option. Visitors that ride the shuttle will also get a 5 dollar food voucher.
The funds collected from the $5 fee for parking in the Fair lot will go to the State Fair Scholarship Program.