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Riverwalk attack shook city a year ago

Friday, May 2, 2014 8:29 PM
Last updated Saturday, May 3, 2014 6:08 AM
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Safety downtown was brought to the forefront one year ago Saturday when a couple on their first date were brutally attacked on Riverwalk Augusta.

Ashley Solesbee and Wesley Spires are getting married today, exactly one year after they were attacked at Riverwalk Augusta on their first date.  SARA CALDWELL/FILE
SARA CALDWELL/FILE
Ashley Solesbee and Wesley Spires are getting married today, exactly one year after they were attacked at Riverwalk Augusta on their first date.

The suspects, Kevin Rich­ard­son and Robey Moses, both 21, were found quickly, but the incident left a sense of uneasiness that had some questioning safety downtown. Moses and Dominique Hale were charged with the robbery of a man on Broad Street one day before the May 3 attack on Wesley Spires and Ashley Solesbee.

“It made us realize we needed more patrols downtown,” said Richmond County sheriff’s Capt. Calvin Chew.

Solesbee, now 26, and Spires, 28, both of South Car­o­lina, were ending their evening with a walk on the riverwalk about 11 p.m. when they were attacked with what police said was either a metal bat or a pipe and robbed while on a bench near the old Fort Discovery building.

After they escaped their attackers, Spires drove them to University Hos­pital. Both had facial fractures and head wounds, and Spires also had a broken hand. Solesbee was released from the hospital days after the attack, but Spires was put into an induced coma and remained hospitalized for more than two months.

Despite its rocky beginning, the relationship had a happy ending for the couple, who announced their engagement early this
year and are tying the knot Saturday. In an interview in January, they said they chose the anniversary of the attack for their wedding date to “turn a bad day into something wonderful.”

The couple denied another request for an interview and said they are “trying to stay out of media attention.”

The suspects remain in the Richmond County jail awaiting trial.

For police and city officials, it was as much a battle against a perception of being unsafe as a battle against crime.

At a community meeting held on the riverwalk a week after the attack, Augusta Commission member Corey Johnson said he was disturbed by the attack but that it was “nowhere near as bad as it seems.”

Commissioner Bill Fennoy said Thursday that he thought the attack was isolated and “blown out of proportion.”

“Augusta is a good safe place to visit,” Fen­noy said. “I walk that area of riverwalk and ride my bicycle downtown, and I feel safe.”

An Augusta Chronicle analysis of more than a year of crimes reported to the sheriff’s office showed that the number of crimes reported didn’t differ much from other areas of the county with a safer reputation, such as
west Augusta. About 2 percent of serious crimes countywide – assaults, thefts, burglaries, robberies, damage to property and drug arrests – were in the downtown business district.

After the attack, the sheriff’s office immediately began putting a plan in motion to help curb and deter crime downtown, especially on First Friday, which sees a higher number of visitors.

“Our response was to flood the area with law enforcement,” Chew said. “Of course you can never stop crime from happening, but you can try to deter it.”

The sheriff’s office increased patrols downtown, and officers – including Sheriff Rich­ard Roundtree and Col. Robert Partain, who took to the streets on foot – rode bicycles, golf carts and ATVs in an effort to increase law enforcement visibility.

Last month, Roundtree announced that his Safety Management and Response Team unit will be deployed in the downtown area.

The unit, which is made up of certified officers and community safety officers who are not certified, will be highly visible in their new uniforms and be the “eyes and ears” of downtown. The team is still in training and is expected to begin patrols later this month.

Tree pruning and light fixture repairs to the riverwalk have also occurred, which officials hope will increase visibility and reduce dark patches where people can easily hide.

Steve Cassell, the interim deputy administrator and traffic engineer, said Thursday that lights on the riverwalk are “better than they have been in years.”

Crews found blown bulbs, bulbs that put out little light and dirty domes that hindered the amount of light. Cassell said there is a possibility brighter, higher-wattage bulbs could soon replace current ones.

A long-awaited tree abatement and pruning project began in mid-April. The commission awarded a bid of more than $74,000 for the project on the riverwalk to Georgia Power.

Fennoy said there’s still a possibility of cameras being installed downtown in the future.

“I think anything we can do to improve safety will make citizens of Richmond County and surrounding areas feel safe about coming downtown,” he said.

Comments (17) Add comment
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scoopdedoop64
2366
Points
scoopdedoop64 05/02/14 - 10:53 pm
11
2
Happy for this Couple

I am very happy for this couple and wish them nothing but the very best. I also appreciate everything that the police are doing. But this is no "isolated event" as Fennoy said. Also, how dare he say it "was blown out of proportion". I bet if he was the one hurt or if it was any of his family he would have a different assessment of the situation. I would not be caught downtown or at the Riverwalk at night for any reason. It is still too dangerous. It is not worth the risk.

corgimom
32304
Points
corgimom 05/03/14 - 12:42 am
3
14
If two white men had attacked

If two white men had attacked a black couple, would there have been this kind of response?

I don't think so.

shrimp for breakfast
5456
Points
shrimp for breakfast 05/03/14 - 01:51 am
15
0
Blown out of proportion?

Being induced into a coma and forced to stay in the hospital for 2 months after being beaten with a metal baseball bat or pipe.
Just where is this being blown out of proportion Mr. Fennoy?
I hate politicians. Always telling us that we're taking things the wrong way. It's not like it seems. That's BS Fennoy and you know it.

bohica
381
Points
bohica 05/03/14 - 02:59 am
10
0
Mr. Johnson, nowhere near as

Mr. Johnson, nowhere near as bad it seems. What if that was your child
in the hospital for 2 months. I bet that would change your comments.

Pops
8370
Points
Pops 05/03/14 - 06:48 am
15
0
Typical response

by a man like Fennoy. Agree with Corgimom......it that had been a black couple attacked by a couple of white thugs, there would have been a media storm much, much greater that with this incident. Fennoy, Williams, et al would be in the lead....

seenitB4
87116
Points
seenitB4 05/03/14 - 08:30 am
10
0
B S to this from Fennoy!

"Commissioner Bill Fennoy said Thursday that he thought the attack was isolated and “blown out of proportion.”

2 months in coma & you have the nerve to say that!! How rude & crude!

The Mick
827
Points
The Mick 05/03/14 - 08:38 am
7
5
Corgimom

I don't care if the blue man group attacks a man and woman of any color with a pipe or bat...it is very brutal and is gonna make the news. This happens to be black attackers and white victims. Flip those variables around any way you want, do you feel safer on River Walk? Statements like that are what keep solutions from happening. But hey, here is to hoping there is a white violent offender soon to please you and for the sake of equality.

edcushman
7930
Points
edcushman 05/03/14 - 08:53 am
11
1
"If two white men had
Unpublished

"If two white men had attacked a black couple, would there have been this kind of response?"
corigmom, it would not. It would have been treated as a Hate Crime and the race baiters like Jackson, Sharpton, AG Holder and Obama would have been all over it.

countyman
20120
Points
countyman 05/03/14 - 09:05 am
1
12
Facts

The safety of downtown Augusta speaks for itself and the same people always predict the sky is falling in Augusta.... According to them every school in the county has the same test scores and the crime in South Augusta is the exactly the same no matter the area of South Augusta...

The Holiday Inn Express, Craft & Vine, Whiskey Bar Kitchen, Augusta Lung Associates, Boars Head, Southpoint Media, Farmhaus Burgers, etc are some of the new businesses downtown... The areas with high crime don't repeatedly attract new private businesses..

Clemsondoc
169
Points
Clemsondoc 05/03/14 - 09:06 am
9
0
I went downtown last night

There are some great restaurants and some new nice pubs that have popped up but it did not feel any safer then last May. I do appreciate the large police presence, but making downtown feel safe is going to take a lot more than that. It's going to take less blight and changing who congregates downtown which is not an easy fix.

raul
4865
Points
raul 05/03/14 - 09:19 am
8
0
What I don't understand is

What I don't understand is why the owners of the Marriott would have let the Riverwalk decline in appearance and safety to the degree it did. The Riverwalk should be considered an attraction from a marketing standpoint for the hotel. Instead, they keep pushing this million dollar skywalk which is totally unnecessary.

jimmymac
39556
Points
jimmymac 05/03/14 - 09:24 am
0
0
SAFE
Unpublished

Augusta is still a place that's best visited during the day light hours. Especially anywhere below 10th.

TrulyWorried
14165
Points
TrulyWorried 05/03/14 - 10:19 am
6
0
Congratulations

to a wonderful couple that fought through this horrible ordeal together and now are married and are wished many happy and most of all healthy years together. God bless you and keep you safe.

Truth Matters
6824
Points
Truth Matters 05/03/14 - 12:50 pm
2
8
Congrats to the couple, also.

Congrats to the couple, also. The community/friends showed a great spirit by assisting with medical costs.

Thanks to the ACA, they can get health care and not worry about pre-existing conditions.

GuyGene
1275
Points
GuyGene 05/03/14 - 01:00 pm
9
0
Wha'?

Definition of a jerk: "At a community meeting held on the riverwalk a week after the attack, Augusta Commission member Corey Johnson said he was disturbed by the attack but that it was “nowhere near as bad as it seems.”"

That Fennoy one too! I'm very offended by the remarks of these two.

Gage Creed
17203
Points
Gage Creed 05/03/14 - 02:14 pm
5
0
"The safety of downtown

"The safety of downtown Augusta speaks for itself and the same people always predict the sky is falling in Augusta"

I challenge you to tell that to Solesbee and Spires...

Now run along and make another list...

Fiat_Lux
15420
Points
Fiat_Lux 05/03/14 - 03:55 pm
4
0
The amazing thing to me is that anyone with a shred of sense

could, in good conscience and without winking madly, consider Corey Johnson a legitimate and serious candidate for the mayor's seat.

What kind of heartless idiot would minimize what that couple experienced at the hands of those savages? And why would he? And more importantly, how could anyone actually qualified to vote cast a vote for such an idiot?

Oh, wait.

edcushman
7930
Points
edcushman 05/03/14 - 05:01 pm
3
1
"Thanks to the ACA, they can
Unpublished

"Thanks to the ACA, they can get health care and not worry about pre-existing conditions."
TM, yeah and the scumbags that committed the Hate Crime can sign up for ACA as well. One report said that as many as 1/3 of the people that have signed up for Obamacare are felons but then they are democrats also.

edcushman
7930
Points
edcushman 05/03/14 - 05:05 pm
4
1
" What kind of heartless
Unpublished

" What kind of heartless idiot would minimize what that couple experienced at the hands of those savages?"
F_L, it was black on white so what was the big deal. If it had been white on black all racist baiters, Jackson, Sharpton, AG Holder and Obama, would be on it.

Pops
8370
Points
Pops 05/03/14 - 06:59 pm
3
1
Yup....spoken like someone who has been here a while

"The safety of downtown Augusta speaks for itself".......misguided new hipster......

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