There was only standing room — and not much of it — at the Savannah City Council meeting Thursday afternoon after angry downtown business owners brought their concerns over an early Wednesday morning shooting and fatal accident in City Market.
About 100 protesters marched their way through City Market and up the steps of City Hall to demand answers from city leaders after Scott Waldrup and two others were killed.
Police said Waldrup died after a vehicle driven by Jerry Chambers, 17, careened into a crowd of pedestrians.
The shooting and chase led to panic in the streets as business owners, employees and downtown revelers sprinted through City Market and scampered into nearby bars and restaurants to escape the scene.
“This was the result from frustration,” said Zach Kozdron, a resident of Savannah for 17 years who organized Thursday’s march. “I’ve been in the service industry for about 10 or 11 years. I’ve noticed that we have had disconnect between the city and people in the service industry. It hasn’t been anything bad — it has just been a disconnect. But this (tragedy) kind of brought it together.”
Followed by mounted police officers, the group of protesters gathered at Sorry Charlie’s on Congress Street an hour before going to council to show support for Waldrup and the cause.
They marched down West St. Julian Street through Johnson Square and up Bull Street where they filed into meeting rooms, hallways and even the City Council building rotunda to “advocate for change in Scott’s memory.”
Waldrup, “dubbed an innocent victim” by Police Chief Joseph Lumpkin, was the general manager at The Grey restaurant on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Friends, family and colleagues of Waldrup made sure their voices were heard during the council’s meeting.
Business owners and leaders in the downtown community are asking for the city to close the roads in City Market to vehicular traffic on busy holidays. They are also looking to establish a liaison between the Savannah-Chatham police department and bars in the area.
“One of the things I’ve heard in discussing what happened is people are asking why there was even a car on Jefferson Street that night? We should close the street to vehicle traffic during larger events…What people don’t realize is when bars call police for an incident, they get a ping on their liquor license as a meddlesome or a troublesome place,” Kozdron said. “And then you’re kind of on your own to deal with the issue… it’s a snowballing effect.”
And the goal Thursday was change not chaos, according to Harley Krinsky, owner of Sorry Charlie’s.
“We need to make this as least antagonistic against City Council as possible,” he said. “We‘re looking for change and we need to do it in a way that we can suggest to (leaders.) We don’t have the answers for violence and we don’t pretend to know the answers, but there are certain things that we could have done to avoid what happened on July 5 happening again.
“It’s very important to suggest real change — it’s not going to push our platform in a way to create real change.”
Savannah Mayor Eddie DeLoach addressed the larger-than-normal crowd at the beginning of the city meeting, assuring residents that he understood their anger and that city officials are working to improve things.
“While it is necessary, and right, to stop and mourn those who lost their lives in these, and all tragedies, myself, council, and the chief remain focused on our long-range plan to support public safety and reduce crime,” he said. “Make no mistake: we are at war with gangs in our community. We are at war with those that want to disrupt any law-abiding citizen and wreak havoc on our beloved city.
“But we cannot flinch, we cannot become reactionary, we cannot change policy based on emotions and we must stay with our strategic plan.”
Touting a 6 percent decrease in violent crime so far this year, DeLoach told attendees that city leaders will do whatever is necessary to keep the city safe.
“As we continue to mourn all the lives lost this year in Savannah, and pray for all those affected by violent crime, we must work together to find positive solutions to these complex issues. We are one Savannah. We strive to be a safe Savannah. And all of Savannah is open for business.”
Shooting and crash
The incident began about 12:13 a.m. Wednesday when a white SUV traveling north on Jefferson Street, near the intersection with West St. Julian Street, pulled alongside a group of people. At least one occupant of the white SUV began firing a gun at the group of pedestrians. Three people were shot: A 23-year-old male, a 16-year-old male and a 22-year-old female. The 16-year-old male was critically injured.
Police responded to the gunshots, and officers located the vehicle near Sustainable Fellwood. When officers attempted a traffic stop, the vehicle sped away. The vehicle crashed on West Bay Street, near the intersection of Barnard Street.
After the crash, police identified Chambers as the driver of vehicle, and he was identified as the suspect in the shooting at Jefferson Street.
Two passengers in Chambers’ vehicle, Gabriel Magulias, 20, and Spencer Stuckey, 17, died at the scene, police said.
Chambers was charged with three counts of felony murder, two counts of party to a crime (aggravated assault) and one count of fleeing to elude, police said.
No bond was set as Chambers made his initial court appearance Thursday. He is being held at Chatham County Jail and will return to court Aug. 17.
Metro police turned over investigation of the wreck to the Georgia State Patrol.
Lumpkin said the shooting is gang related, and Chambers is a known member of a gang called Only The Mob. Chambers was arrested last year for a shooting at Savannah Mall. Lumpkin has stressed that the End Gun Violence program has been effective in tackling gang violence in the area. Wednesday morning’s shooting and accident increased this year’s homicide count to 25 so far.
Police will continue to monitor City Market and the downtown area as part of normal operations this weekend, officials said.
In the meantime, Robert Milie, president of IAFF Savannah Firefighters, spoke on behalf of all the protesters at City Council.
“Scott’s legacy will be of love and action, love for others and action to protect,” he said.