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Carolina Cup's College Park

'Not as bad,' says sheriff as out-of-state students deal with S.C. keg law

Posted: April 3, 2011 3:31 p.m.
Updated: April 4, 2011 5:00 a.m.
Martin L. Cahn/C-I

Kershaw County Sheriff Jim Matthews (left) confers with one of his deputies by cellphone as a group of fraternity brothers from the University of North Carolina- Wilmington speak with a deputy.

It wasn’t coolers, but kegs that turned out to be the story of the day in Springdale Race Course’s College Park at Saturday’s Carolina Cup.

Kershaw County Sheriff Jim Matthews, handling College Park security for the first time, had said he planned to randomly check coolers carried in by anyone appearing to be under the age of 21. Those plans changed after a number of deputies stayed up most of Friday night and early Saturday morning searching for a missing child in Elgin. Matthews admitted he and what deputies he had were “overwhelmed” by the estimated 15,000 to 17,000 college students who descended on the Cup after the gates opened at 9 a.m. Saturday.

Matthews arrived in College Park about an hour later and changed his strategy 30 minutes after that. A number of deputies stationed themselves across from the entrances where students walked through and stopped those carrying kegs of beer. They were looking for yellow tags: indicators that the kegs were registered in South Carolina.

It’s an obscure law that went into effect in January 2008.

Title 61, Chapter 4, Article 19 of the S.C. State Code of Laws says any metal container with a 5.16 gallon or more capacity must be registered at the point of sale. Specifically, a merchant selling such kegs cannot do so without recording the date of sale; a keg identification number; the name, address and birth date of the purchaser; and the driver’s license or identification card number presented by the purchaser. The purchaser must also sign a statement attesting to the accuracy of the information they’ve provided and, essentially, swear that no one under 21 will possess or consume the beer dispensed from the keg.

Once that is done, an ID tag is affixed to the keg, usually yellow in color.

The law goes on to state that anyone possessing a keg without a tag is in violation of a misdemeanor and can be fined up to $500 and/or imprisoned for up to 30 days.

The question Saturday was whether the law could apply to kegs being brought to the Cup by students attending out-of-state schools. Apparently, it did.

Even if a keg is bought in North Carolina, a student would have to find a way to get it registered in South Carolina, said KCSO Capt. Ed Corey.

The first student affected by the keg checks was Jeffrey Julius, who said he was over 21, and had come to the Cup all the way from the University of Michigan. Julius was informed by KCSO deputies that they would hold the keg until he was ready to leave the Cup at the end of the day.

A total of 10 kegs were temporarily confiscated by deputies, Matthews said later. Seven of those belonged to one group of fraternity brothers from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington.

“Absolutely not,” answered Andrew Gibbs, when asked if he and his companions knew about the keg law, “and we’ve been here -- this is my fifth year coming with the fraternity. I’ve been to six total, and this has never happened.”

One of Gibbs’ fellow fraternity members, Dustin Harrison, was a bit more sanguine about it, but still upset.

“As soon as last year’s Cup was over, we started planning for this one; it’s like running a small business,” Harrison said. “We tried to do things legally, but ran into something we didn’t know about. We’ve done everything we can to stay within the law -- that’s why this is so upsetting.”

John Cushman, a member of the Carolina Cup Racing Association’s (CCRA) board of directors, who was coordinating on security matters with Matthews, said he wasn’t aware of the keg law, either.

“Why weren’t we told about it ahead of time so we could communicate with the fraternities and sororities?” Cushman said. “I think it’s unfair, but if it’s the law, then they have to enforce it.”

Matthews had his deputies use a light hand with the students whose beer was held until the end of the day.

“We didn’t issue them any citations,” Matthews said. “We just held on to the (10) kegs and let a bunch more take them back to their buses.”

Deputies and SLED agents concentrated on walking through College Park, looking for underage drinkers and those becoming drunk and disorderly.

Out of those 15,000 to 17,000 students who came to College Park, Matthews said deputies arrested 72 people while SLED agents arrested 77 more. Most were cited either for being underage drinkers or for public disorderly conduct, he said.

In one case, Matthews said, a girl being arrested became so combative deputies had to restrain both her hands and feet. One young man managed to get out of his plastic flexi-cuffs and took off running; deputies chased him down.

“We made two drug arrests, one for coke, the other for marijuana,” Matthews said.

One young woman, he said, suffered a broken jaw; someone else suffered a broken ankle.

There were also cases of alcohol poisoning. Around 5:30 p.m., after most of College Park had emptied out, an unidentified student was being loaded on an ambulance that headed off to KershawHealth.

“We have two (others) in serious condition. One of them’s on a ventilator, suffering from some type of high intoxication,” said Matthews.

Despite that, it was not a bad day, he said, in comparison to what it could have been considering the number of students on hand.

“It was not as bad as I thought it was going to be,” Matthews said. “We only got on underage drinkers and kids that were ‘stupid drunk.’”

During the morning rush, the CCRA’s Cushman -- who was partly responsible for creating College Park 15 years ago when he was the event’s director -- said the vast majority of students who come are responsible young people.

“Look at these kids,” Cushman said. “Most of the guys are wearing a tie and white shirt; the girls are wearing dresses. This is a fashion show for them -- their first tailgate event of the spring.”

Cushman also pointed out that the CCRA has worked with law enforcement over the years to assist them in policing in order to help the vast majority of kids have a good time.

“For example, about four, five years ago, we added more space between the tents and more space between the rows so (officers) could get between them more easily. We banned tents from having ‘sidewalls’ because they were a visual barrier. We try to improve every year,” Cushman said.

This year, he said, they eliminated one row of parking on the College Park side.

“There were just too many cars,” said Cushman. “They can (park) in general admission and walk over.”

He acknowledged that underage drinking is a big issue for law enforcement.

“It’s their responsibility to stop and control that underage drinking,” Cushman said.

While Matthews was looking out for College Park, Camden Police Chief Joe Floyd was responsible for overall security coordination; his officers policed the infield and grandstands.

“I’d say this was an average Carolina Cup in terms of the number of arrests and incidents,” Floyd said late Saturday night.

Floyd didn’t have hard numbers Saturday, but compared them to the 2010 Carolina Cup. Then, he said, officers cited 50 underage drinkers and arrested 12 people for public disorderly conduct.

“I’d say we were consistent with our underage drinking numbers and probably a little down on drunk and disorderly,” Floyd said. “The general mood was that there didn’t seem to be as much excessive drinking.”

The chief had high praise for KershawHealth EMS technicians.

“I talked with (CCRA Director) Jeff Teter afterward and I told him that the pat on the back shouldn’t go to me, but to EMS. They did an outstanding job,” he said.

Floyd said he believes EMS treated 26 people and transported eight to the hospital.

“They said that felt like an increase (from last year),” said Floyd.

Not all were alcohol-related, he said, with at least one man treated for a heart condition.

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