Marcell Murphy likes the quiet seclusion offered by Riverwalk Augusta on warm spring nights.
“It’s just very peaceful out here at night. It’s a good place to sit and think,” said Murphy, who was sharing a swing and a view of the Savannah River with his friend Lauren Bush at dusk Monday.
The two North Augustans were among a handful of couples out for an evening stroll, undaunted by the few working electric lights along the riverwalk path.
But Murphy acknowledged the isolation can have a darker side. He encounters more homeless people asking for money than he see police officers.
“It’s peaceful, but it’s dangerous,” he said. “There are some places you just don’t go.”
Police are still trying to find two assailants who attacked and robbed another young couple Friday night on the riverwalk.
Police say Wesley L. Spires, 27, of Edgefield, and Ashley E. Solesbee, 25, of North Augusta, were clubbed with a metal pipe or bat and had to make their way to University Hospital on their own just after 11 p.m. Friday. They suffered several facial fractures and head wounds. Spires also had a broken hand, according to an incident report from the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office.
University Hospital spokeswoman Rebecca Sylvester said Solesbee was released from the hospital Monday morning.
No condition was available for Spires, who police said had suffered a skull fracture and brain bleeding from the attack.
The suspects are described as two tall, slim black males with short dreadlocks who were wearing black clothing and saggy pants.
Police have every reason to believe it was a random attack and was not related to the robbery and beating of a Beech Island man outside Riverfront Pub on Thursday evening, sheriff’s Lt. Calvin Chew said.
Those incidents, and the recent Internet posting of video showing a large brawl on Broad Street in April, have again heightened concerns about safety in downtown Augusta.
Restaurant owners near the riverwalk worry that the violent mugging could be another blow to business, similar what happened after a shooting on Broad Street after First Friday in July that injured six people.
William Harrison, the owner of The Boll Weevil Cafe on Ninth Street, said that the restaurant was very busy during the weekend but that one high-profile crime can hurt business.
Employees of The Cotton Patch near Eighth Street were reminded Saturday of the restaurant’s policy not to close the restaurant by themselves, take trash outside alone or walk to cars alone, manager Rose Evans said.
Evans and Harrison said that there is little to no police presence on the riverwalk and that security cameras need to be installed to deter crime.
“It’s nice during the day, but I wouldn’t go down there at night,” Harrison said. “It’s not well-lit. It’s not patrolled by police that I’ve ever seen.”
The area’s reputation could be salvaged if the city and sheriff’s office react immediately to improve security and keep crime from worsening, Harrison said.
On Monday, the Downtown Development Authority scheduled a meeting with the sheriff’s office for Wednesday to discuss downtown crime rates, Executive Director Margaret Woodard said. The focus of the meeting will be regularly collecting crime statistics that can be published for the public to view, she said.
Security cameras for the riverwalk could be funded by a special purpose local option sales tax in the final quarter of the year, Woodard said.
“We would encourage people to stay in well-lit, populated areas where businesses are open,” she said.
Other downtown visitors Monday said the attack was a big concern. Dottie Smith said she doesn’t go downtown alone.
Smith said that she has lived in Miami, Los Angeles, Atlanta and New York but that two of the three times she has been robbed, she was in downtown Augusta.
“I don’t go downtown alone,” she said from a bench not far from where the attacks occurred Friday evening. “I don’t feel that comfortable as a woman downtown alone.”
Jeffery Willis, who was with Smith, said the attacks won’t affect his decision to come downtown, but he’s not a woman. First Friday, however, is a different story.
“(I’m) pretty much not coming downtown on First Friday because of the things I read in the paper,” the Evans resident said.
Chew said the sheriff’s office is beefing up patrols and asking people to be wary of their surroundings, especially in isolated, dark areas. All suspicious behavior should be reported to police, he said.
“It’s unfortunate that this happened down there. All our investigators are involved. It is a priority. We want people to feel safe downtown,” Chew said. “It is very disturbing, and the sheriff is concerned.”