Sumter Mayoral debate set for October

mayors-raceCity of Sumter voters will get the chance to evaluate all three candidates in the upcoming mayoral race at the same time when the political opponents will face off next month in a two-hour debate hosted by the Greater Sumter Chamber of Commerce and the Sumter Board of Realtors.

Incumbent Joe McElveen, who is seeking a fifth term in office, as well as his two challengers – retired Air Force general  William “Dutch” Holland and entertainer and recording artist Charlie Jones – are all expected to attend the forum moderated by retired Air Force Chief Master Sergeant and mental health professional Lefford Fate.

Scheduled for Tuesday, October 25, at Sumter High School from 6 to 8 p.m. – the same day as the chamber’s Legislative Breakfast – the event will be approximately two weeks before voters head to the polls for this nonpartisan contest on the November general election ballot.

leffordFate said the exact format for the debate, which will be free and open to the public, is still being developed, but promotional materials for the event say organizers hope to include a question-and-answer portion in which attendees can submit their own questions to the candidates.

Two recent polls by Sumter Citizen have shown McElveen receiving a majority of the support from our readers.  Another poll gauging online support for the local candidates is scheduled for next week.

Those wishing to receive an email reminder of the upcoming debate can submit their information to the Greater Sumter Chamber of Commerce via this link.

SHOOTING UPDATE: Dashcam video shows shootout suspect firing at officers

Sumter law enforcement officials have released the dashcam video from their shootout with a suspect who remains at large and now faces multiple violent crime charges, including seven counts of attempted murder.

The video, released at a joint press conference with the Sumter Police Department and Sumter County Sheriff’s Office, shows the suspect, described as 25-year-old Dontrell Montese Carter, fining multiple shots at officers after crashing his car after a high-speed chase with law enforcement during the early morning hours of Sept. 18.

That video can be seen here:

The suspect strikes a Sumter Police Department patrol car multiple times in the incident, but none of the officers were hit as they returned fire.

Law enforcement has confirmed they have also expanded their search for Carter beyond South Carolina, and have enlisted multiple agencies, including the U.S. Marshalls’ Office, to locate the man they have labeled a “menace to society.”

bad-guy“Dontrell Carter is a dangerous individual with no regard for others,” said Sumter County Sheriff Anthony Dennis.  “He is a danger to the community, not just to law enforcement, but to those he knows as well,” said Sumter Police Chief Russell Roark.

Unsurprisingly, Carter has also been added to the sheriff’s office most wanted list, facing seven counts of attempted murder as well as domestic violence and various firearm violations for his alleged actions earlier this month.

The latest charges against Carter stem from an incident earlier this month that started with a domestic violence incident at a Dalzell area home and led to gunplay at another residence and a high-speed chase before culminating in a shootout with law enforcement and a subsequent manhunt.

As we pointed out in a previous story, Carter has been awaiting trial on various violent crime charges, including attempted murder, since 2008, and has been arrested at least 14 times over the past eight years.

Fortunately no one was injured in the gun battle, and no one was seriously injured in any of incidents throughout the Dalzell area in northern Sumter County leading up to the altercation with law enforcement.

Carter is described as a medium-skinned black male with dreadlocks standing 5 feet, 10 inches tall and weighing about 170 pounds. Law enforcement strongly asks the public not to approach the suspect if he is spotted, but rather to immediately call either 911, the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office at (803) 436-2700, or Crime Stoppers at (803) 436-2718.

Authorities also say they believe Carter could be receiving assistance avoiding law enforcement, and warn that anyone aiding the suspect could face criminal charges for harboring a fugitive.

Pinewood teacher hoping simple product will help improve students’ learning

jones-classroomAsk almost any teacher, especially those working in our elementary schools, and they’ll tell you one of the more difficult factors in their job is getting students to focus on the learning at hand.

“Many of my students struggle with a variety of sensory processing disorders with ADHD being the most prevalent,” said Kendall Jones, fourth-grade teacher at Manchester Elementary School in Pinewood which serves one of the poorer communities in the Sumter School District. “The result is a group of students who are bright and brilliant, but seldom work to their full potential because of behavior problems that arise and are difficult for the students to control.”

Jones, however, believes she has found a simple product to help ease some of these issues in the classroom, and she’s looking for your support.

What the elementary school teacher would like to do is equip all of her students’ desks with a simple yet innovate product called Bouncy Bands. Invented by a school counselor in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, these simple bands run underneath students’ desks and don’t restrain students in any way, but provide them the ability to release their extra energy by allowing them to bounce their feet and stretch their legs for quiet movement.  With this, students’ fidgeting subsides, and students and teachers are able to focus on the learning at hand.

Jones described the bands as “discreet and quiet, and are a great way for students to self-soothe and stay focused, thus enhancing their learning experience.”

The product was awarded a 2016 National Product Parenting Award for its simplicity and effectiveness, and has received several endorsements from teachers already using the bands in their classrooms.

To help support the students in Jones’ classroom, simply follow this link, and click here to learn more about the NPPA award for the bands.

UPDATE: Wedgefield shooting death has investigators seeking more information

crime-sceneInvestigators with the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office continue to seek more information as they try to determine the events that led up to the shooting death of a teenager in Wedgefield earlier this month.

Early in the morning of Sept. 8, deputies responded to a shooting incident at a residence in the 200 block of Apollo Street and found 17-year-old Wedgefield resident Jaquelle Dinkins lying in the front yard of the home, unresponsive. Dinkins was declared dead at the scene.

Shortly after the shooting, Ken Bell, spokesman for the sheriff’s office, said witnesses were telling deputies the shooting occurred without warning, shortly after a group of people had knocked on the door of the mobile home where the shooting occurred.

Bell also said that deputies were being told the shots fired in the incident came from either inside the home or the front yard just outside the home, adding that whoever opened the door to the residence had apparently also attempted to physically pull the visitors inside before the shooting.

However, now, Bell said, part of the problem investigators are having is that after conducting multiple interviews with eyewitnesses, the stories they’re receiving are conflicting greatly.

So far, no one faces any charges in the shooting.

Earlier in the investigation, the sheriff’s office named a 30-year-old man as a “person of interest” in the shooting, but after speaking with him, he was removed from that list.

Anyone with information about the shooting is asked to call either the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office at (803) 436-2000, or Crime Stoppers at (803) 436-2718.  People calling the Crime Stoppers number can remain anonymous.

Trump edges Clinton in Sumter Citizen readers’ poll

toptrumpRepublican nominee Donald Trump came out the slight favorite of Sumter Citizen readers in the latest poll gauging which candidates are garnering the most local support.

In receiving 45.1 percent of the votes cast in the week-long survey, Trump was a slightly favored choice by our readers over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, who garnered 43.1 percent support.

Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson led the group of the third-party candidates that were also an option to our readers to support in the poll.  The former New Mexico governor received 6.3 percent support from readers, while both Green party nominee Jill Stein received 1.4 percent.  Evan McMullin, the independent candidate who received support from the American Independence Party of South Carolina to gain access to the ballot, did not receive any support.

Undecided voters made up 2.8 percent of respondents, while another 1.4 percent said they would be supporting another unlisted candidate.

The poll was available to readers from Sept. 21 to Sept. 27, meaning a large majority of the votes were cast before the first televised debate between the Democratic and Republican nominees.

As we have pointed out with all of our previous surveys, the Sumter Citizen online poll should not be confused to be a scientific survey, but rather a snapshot gauge of the social media activity of each candidate’s supporters.

The focus of the Sumter Citizen readers’ poll continues to look at federal races, but this time a more localized one, as we once again evaluate the U.S. House of Representatives South Carolina District 5 race between Republican incumbent Mick Mulvaney and Democratic challenger Fran Person.  Voting in this poll will be open until Oct. 4.

To participate in that poll, simply follow this link.

Driver claims auto pilot prevented her ’98 Oldsmobile from stopping for police

williams-sherry-nSit down with law enforcement officers for a few minutes, ask the right questions, and you’ll likely hear all kinds of stories about the excuses people have given during traffic stops.  After an eight-mile “slow speed chase” throughout Sumter on Wednesday, however, there’s a possibility deputies with the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office heard a new one.

34-year-old Sherry Nicole Williams faces a series of charges, including child endangerment, after leading a half-dozen deputies on the chase from the Cane Savannah area of Sumter County through downtown after refusing to stop for officers.  When the suspect’s 1998 Oldsmobile Intrigue finally did come to rest on North Main Street about a half-mile from the sheriff’s office headquarters, however, her reason for not stopping was, to say the least, surprising. -
A 1998 Oldsmobile Intrigue (although not this one) was said to be driving itself, according to a suspect who refused to stop for officers for eight miles.

“She finally came out of the car and said the car was driving itself,” said Ken Bell, spokesman for the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office.  “She said she wasn’t controlling it, that it wouldn’t stop, and was giving all kinds of reasons.”

 No injuries were reported in the chase, and speeds for the suspect’s vehicle – allegedly on auto pilot -never exceeded 30 miles per hour.  “She was using her turn signals, stopping at intersections and everything,” Bell said.

The incident first began when deputies first responded to a call from a residence in the Cane Savannah area reporting an occupied unknown vehicle was sitting in their driveway.  According to reports, when deputies arrived they found Williams sitting behind the wheel of the car, along with a small child, said to be about 7 years old, sitting in the rear seat, and an infant standing in the passenger’s seat.

Williams claimed to be waiting for someone to arrive there, and deputies told her she would have to leave, but not until someone arrived with a car seat for the infant.  According to reports, Williams slowly drove away from the scene anyway, and officers followed, first into a nearby dead-end street.  Williams then allegedly turned around at the end of the dead end road and attempted to hit the deputy’s car with her own before leading law enforcement throughout Sumter.

Williams faces several charges for her, or the car’s, alleged actions, including child endangerment and failure to stop for a blue light.  Bond for Williams has been set at $2,000.  Both children were turned over to officials with the South Carolina Department of Social Services, and the allegedly self-driving vehicle was towed from the scene.

Sumter city government to pay for downtown hotel parking garage

parking-lotSumter City Council has approved a bond for up to $4.5 million to pay for the construction a new multi-level parking garage to support a proposed downtown hotel.

The parking garage, which will be constructed at the southeastern corner of W. Hampton Avenue and N. Sumter Street, will replace the current single-level, 160-space, public parking lot currently at the location, and is expected to primarily support the proposed 93-room Hyatt hotel, which previous government documents have said has a proposed investment of $12 million.  While the parking garage is currently expected to remain municipal property, it is also being constructed with “consistent design standards” to match the proposed hotel.

As part of the municipal efforts to build the parking garage, Sumter City Council also determined the facility should not have to follow the standard regulations for government procurement.

lot2This actually occurred back in March, when city council passed a resolution allowing the project to be exempt from the procurement process and awarded the contract for the parking garage to Thompson Turner Construction, the same company said to be constructing the proposed hotel.   According to the resolution approved by city council, council members believe doing so will lower costs and improve safety during construction.  The March resolution also said city council expects the elevated parking structure and the hotel will be constructed at the same time.

And while this is the largest investment city government has made in support of the private venture that has been under discussion for years, this is not the first.

At their previous meeting earlier this month, city council also approved transferring the publicly-owned property on Main Street across from the Sumter Opera House, currently used by the city for various community events including the 4th Friday concert series, to Sumter Hotel Venture LLC for the Main Street hotel.  Awarding the property to the company, city council said “would serve a public purpose by fostering economic development, encouraging job creation, and supporting additional investment in the local community.”

Even before the property was made available to the hotel venture, however, the land had to be cleared of two businesses operating downtown.  That occurred back in 2012, when Sumter City Council issued another bond for $550,000 to purchase and demolish the buildings previously located on Main Street, which were housing Maxway and a CitiTrends stores. Those two businesses were employing approximately 30 people at the time the buildings were purchased by the city.

Because of their location, the demolition of those buildings had to be approved by the city’s Historic Preservation Design Review Committee. As part of his argument for justifying demolishing the buildings, city manager Deron McCormick argued to the committee that removing the buildings would give downtown visitors a better view of the Sumter Opera House.

To pay for the parking lot, the bond issued by city council at their last council meeting, is scheduled to be paid back between 2017 and 2029, at an interest rate of 2.04 percent.

McElveen continues to lead in readers’ poll for Sumter mayor

2013mcelveen-jWith seven weeks left in the 2016 campaign season, Sumter mayor Joe McElveen continues to receive overwhelming support in his bid for a fifth term in office from readers of the Sumter Citizen, results released today indicate.

The poll was open to all readers from Sept. 15 to Sept. 21, and its results closely resemble those of the initial poll conducted two weeks ago.  In the recent poll, McElveen garnered 71.4 percent of the votes cast, easily leading in the three-man race.  Between the two other candidates, Retired Air Force major general William “Dutch” Holland received 24.2 percent support while entertainer and recording artist Charlie Jones received 4.4 percent.

In the first survey, McElveen received 62.2 percent of the online votes cast, followed by Holland, with 32.7 percent of the vote and Jones with 5.1 percent support.

As has been pointed out with all of the pervious readers’ polls, it should be noted that the Sumter Citizen online poll should not be confused to be a scientific survey, but rather a snapshot gauge of the social media activity of each candidate’s supporters.  These polls can be reflective of the amount of grassroots support each campaign currently has, which can have a significant impact on the final results when voters cast their ballots, but should not be seen as prognostications of the November general election.

To participate in the Presidential poll, simply follow this link.

Number Crunch: Why South Carolina’s, and Sumter’s, unemployment rate can be misleading

ur-rateOn the surface, Tuesday’s report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics saying South Carolina’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate has fallen to its lowest point in more than 15 years should be cause to celebrate.

The underlying factors slightly beneath this widely-reported figure, however, can be a reason to curtail that celebration, if not trigger some alarm.

According to BLS, the August 2016 unemployment rate for the Palmetto State sat at 5.1 percent, its lowest point since a 4.9 percent rate in April 2001.  Not only is this figure down roughly a half point from a year ago (which was the starting point of a six-month period where the rate remained essentially unchanged), but it has dropped somewhat rapidly from 5.8 percent just four months earlier.

So, at first glance, using only this figure, it would appear South Carolina might be coming out of an economic malaise and moving toward a more prosperous future.  And, it still might be doing so, but according to the data, if it is, there will be fewer people enjoying it.

labor-forceThat’s because, according to the labor force figures that make up the unemployment rate are showing a steady decline of South Carolinians participating in the state’s job market.  During the past four months, according to the BLS’s seasonally-adjusted figures, more than 18,200 people have left the state’s labor force.  For comparison, that’s roughly the labor force of nearby Clarendon County.

In fact, during that same time, the state’s rate has dropped despite actually losing about 1,000 jobs statewide.  One way to lower the unemployment rate is to gain jobs.  Another is to lose people looking for work in the first place.  According to the BLS, South Carolina is currently doing the latter.

The same thing is occurring in Sumter, although here the unemployment rate as of July 2016 (the most recent figures) sits at 6.4 percent, the highest of any metropolitan area in the state.

Looking back four months as we did with the state figures (but this time the period is from March to July) Sumter has seen its unemployment rate drop from 6.6 percent.  But, like the state figures, the Gamecock City has done so not by gaining jobs.  BLS says Sumter actually lost about 350 jobs during this time, but was able to see its unemployment rate drop by also losing about 480 people from the local labor force.

Still, it should be pointed out that local figures are not seasonally adjusted, and can fluctuate quite a bit more than on the state level.  Still, a lack of growth over a long period can also be concerning, and Sumter’s current labor force is below what it was a decade.

But what this also means is that a future unemployment rate increase should not necessarily be interpreted as a negative and could actually be a positive indicator, once again, depending on the underlying numbers.  An increasing unemployment rate doesn’t necessarily mean a loss of jobs, but could mean more people are ready to engage in the job market.

Shootout update: Suspect, armed with assault rifle during gunfight, has avoided prosecution on multiple charges for years

bad-guySumter County law enforcement is very familiar with the man they say they had a gunfight with Sunday morning.

Dontrell Montese Carter, the 25-year-old who law enforcement now says was armed with an assault rifle loaded with armor-piercing rounds during the shootout, remains at large after a string of alleged crimes Sunday morning – including a domestic violence assault, a shootout at a residence, a high-speed chase and gun battle with officers.   (The initial stories detailing Sunday’s events can be found here and here.)

dennis“As soon as he wrecked, Carter exited the vehicle firing at the officers with an assault rifle. He put our officers as well as many residents of Sumter County in great danger by firing wildly as he did,” Sumter County Sheriff Anthony Dennis said.

Fortunately no one was injured in the gun battle, and no one was seriously injured in any of incidents throughout the Dalzell area in northern Sumter County leading up to the altercation with law enforcement.

For Sunday’s alleged actions, Dennis said Carter now faces several charges of attempted murder, possession of a weapon during a violent crime, and firing shots into a dwelling, among other charges. Dennis added other charges could be filed as the investigation continues.

“Even though he has escaped apprehension so far, we will use every available resource available to us or other agencies to locate him,” Dennis said. “He has proven himself to be a danger to the community so we are working diligently to get him and keep him off of the streets.”

However, this won’t be the first time that local law enforcement is responding to an alleged outburst of violence by Carter, who has a history of violent crime and weapons charges stemming back to when he was a teenager.

But despite the litany of charges accumulated by Carter since his first arrest in 2008 when he was 17 years old – which includes attempted murder – Carter has yet to be tried in court for the most violent charges against him.

That’s not to say Carter hasn’t spent time in jail.  According to public records, on multiple occasions Carter has been convicted of lesser offenses – for example: multiple DUI charges – and has spent some of the time he was sentenced to behind bars.  According to public records, one other significant set of charges Carter faced, 2010 accusations of first-degree burglary and kidnapping, were dismissed after he was able to produce an alibi accepted by prosecutors.

Still, outstanding charges against Carter include a 2008 charge of armed robbery with a deadly weapon, 2010 charges of unlawful possession of a firearm and possession of a stolen firearm, 2013 charges of attempted murder and discharging a firearm into an occupied vehicle, and 2014 charges of grand larceny.

In total, according to public records, Carter has been either arrested or detained by law enforcement at least 14 times over the past eight years, and despite the numerous run-ins with law enforcement, Carter has neither had his day in court nor had his bond revoked for the most serious previous accusations he faces.

Even more unfortunate, in Sumter County, and the Third Circuit – which includes Sumter, Clarendon, Lee and Williamsburg – long periods of waiting for prosecution are commonplace.

The South Carolina Supreme Court has set a benchmark for 80 percent of all general session charges to be finalized within a year of initially appearing on the court docket.  According to the statistics provided by the South Carolina Judicial Department, the Third Circuit currently sits at a 47 percent clearance rate, the worst in the state.  In simple terms, more than half of all the general session charges still awaiting resolution are more than a year old.

When broken down to the county level, Sumter County on its own performs even worse.  Of the 3,575 pending cases on the general sessions docket in Sumter County, 2,000 cases – or 56 percent – have been on the docket for at least a year.  Of these, 1,479 cases – or 41 percent – have been waiting at least 545 days.  Statewide, the average number of cases waiting this long sands at only 17 percent.  At least five of Carter’s outstanding charges fall into this category.

Dennis said officers fortunately followed protocol Sunday, otherwise the result the result could have been much worse.  “This could have ended badly because three law enforcement officers could have lost their lives as well as nearby residents,” Dennis said.

As of Monday afternoon, Carter remained at large, and continues to be considered armed and dangerous.  He is described as a medium-skinned black male with dreadlocks standing 5 feet, 10 inches tall and weighing about 170 pounds. Law enforcement strongly asks the public not to approach the suspect if he is spotted, but rather to immediately call either 911, the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office at (803) 436-2700, or Crime Stoppers at (803) 436-2718.

Authorities now say they also believe Carter could be receiving assistance avoiding law enforcement, and warn that anyone aiding the suspect could face criminal charges for harboring a fugitive.