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Bride incident doesn't deter tourists from downtown Beaufort

Hundreds of onlookers lined the street Tuesday afternoon to watch the third annual Beaufort Memorial Cycling Classic roll through downtown Beaufort. City officials and business owners are worried that a recent attack on a bride-to-be at a downtown inn might discourage visitors from coming to the area.
Hundreds of onlookers lined the street Tuesday afternoon to watch the third annual Beaufort Memorial Cycling Classic roll through downtown Beaufort. City officials and business owners are worried that a recent attack on a bride-to-be at a downtown inn might discourage visitors from coming to the area.

Pushing her 2-year-old son, Matthew, down Port Republic Street in a stroller, Jessica Dooley said an attack at the hotel down the street is not enough to make her think Beaufort is an unsafe place for her and her family to visit.

"My family hasbeen vacationing in the Beaufort area and down on Hilton Head (Island) for nearly a decade," said Dooley, a native of Pittsburgh. "I've been out late at night in Beaufort and never felt unsafe."

Downtown business owners and area business leaders are hoping area residents and tourists share Dooley's outlook following an attack April 18 on a bride-to-be at the Beaufort Inn on Port Republic Street the night before her wedding.

In the midst of a deep national economic recession and with the summer tourist season looming, downtown businesses can ill afford the perception that downtown is a dangerous place, said Elizabeth O'Brien, executive director of the Beaufort-Port Royal Visitors Convention Bureau.

"Any incident of crime will have a negative effect on tourism, but the magnitude this particular incident will have on tourism, we just don't know," she said. "If downtown business owners are concerned, they should talk to the police, who will tell them that, by and large, downtown is a very safe place."

Dooley said news of last weekend's attack was shocking, but didn't appear to be indicative of escalating violence downtown.

"I felt terrible for that woman but doesn't seem like there's a outbreak in crimes against women or crime in general," she said. "I'll keep coming here as long as it's safe, and for most of the last 10 years, the Beaufort area has been a very safe place to visit. Every area has crime."

Lantz Price, owner of two Bay Street restaurants, said a series of similar incidents could hurt downtown businesses at a time they can least afford it.

"(The attack at the Beaufort Inn) is unfortunate, but it appears to be a single act of violence," said Price, who owns Plums and Saltus River Grill. "This seems to be something completely random, but if this person is the predator he seems to be ... and should something like this happen again, it absolutely could affect our business."

Price said violence does have the potential to dampen business downtown, as many found out in April and May 2006.

Bay Street was rocked by a series of abductions and sexual assaults, including the abduction, robbery and rape of a downtown employee on May 11, 2006, and a similar attack on a Tennessee couple two weeks later. Two St. Helena Island men -- Alfonzo Howard and Lorenzo Hicks -- were convicted earlier this year of the attack on the couple, and Beaufort Police said Howard is a "person of interest"in the other attacks.

LaNelle Fabian, executive director of Main Street Beaufort USA, said the attack at the Beaufort Inn hasn't adversely affected downtown businesses.

"So far, downtown businesses have not seen a decline because of the weekend's unfortunate event," she said. "We want to remind everyone to take any normal safety precautions they would when they are home or traveling. This is a great time of year for downtown Beaufort. Be alert and aware of your surroundings and have a great time."

Beaufort Police Chief Matt Clancy said that because of infrequent violent crime downtown, news of the attack last week was all the more shocking.

"Things like this don't happen all the time, and because it is such a safe area when something like this happens, it's going to draw a lot of attention," he said.

Clancy said one officer is assigned daily to patrol downtown on foot during the day, and the department schedules regular vehicle and foot patrols to police the city's historic district at night.

"We conduct ... park and walk patrols, so when our call volumes are low, an officer will park his cruiser, get out and conduct a foot patrol of high-traffic areas like Bay Street and other areas where people congregate," he said.

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