“It makes us feel unsafe living in an area with no police coverage,” Pine Ridge citizen says
Pine Ridge, SC (Paul Kirby) – For Pine Ridge resident Elaine Baltzegar, the recent departure of two more interim police chiefs was enough for her. Mrs. Baltzegar and her husband, who has lived in Pine Ridge since 1981, turned out Saturday on a beautiful day to join many of her neighbors in a peaceful protest against the most recent actions of Mayor Robert Wells. Baltzegar is also upset that the majority of the town’s council has acquiesced and allowed Wells to take the actions he has causing the last two interim police chiefs to resign and the department to be left without any officers again.
Mrs. Baltzegar said Saturday as her elderly husband stood by her side, “It makes us feel unsafe living in an area where there is no police coverage.” She said that before the demise of the small town’s police department, “We felt safe. When we called the police, they didn't have to come from Lexington County, they came from right here.” She also said that her son lives just down Fish Hatchery Road from her husband and her and she often feels unsafe about speeders that show no regard for the town’s posted speed limits as many elderly retirees and young families often drive its streets.
Mr. and Mrs. Baltzegars were joined by an impressive crowd of other citizens who held signs and stood beside the road demanding that Wells resign. They also had Thin Blue Line signs with the name of officers and former chiefs that had left the department under Wells’ regime. Several signs were also displayed demanding that the department’s K-9 officer Rens also be brought back. One sign made it short and sweet. It read, “Wells leave now!”
Judith “Judy” Cooper, who was depending on a rolling walker to get around Saturday, approached a steady stream of cars that had come to the town hall to sign her petition demanding Wells’ resignation. The organizer of the event Saturday said, “We need to restore a safe community. We had a wonderful police department that worked together. They were excellent with children in the community, reaching out to neighborhoods and the only way to do that unfortunately is for the mayor to step down.” Cooper said that her breaking point with the mayor was when Chief Vincent Silano, former Interim Police Chief Frankie Neeley, and Police Officer Hale stepped down Tuesday and Wednesday of last week. She also called the suspension of the department’s successful K-9 program, “totally political.” Cooper said, “The mayor decided that it was going to end because he wanted to get to Silano,” she concluded.
Pine Ridge Councilmember Beth Sturkie said with the town being so small, she just can’t see why the entire council can’t stay informed about what’s going on. “I don’t want to hear just one side of the story; I don’t want to hear a side of the story where I’m told what happened or this is what the other party said. I think we are small enough where everyone needs to hear both sides of the story and make their own decisions and not just go on hearsay.” Sturkie went on to say that the rest of the council were good people in her opinion. "It's about time they also said that enough was enough and stood up to Robert Wells!"
Sturkie said during an interview Saturday that she doesn’t believe that the citizens of Pine Ridge will be satisfied to protest and make noise for a short while before letting things blow over as they have in the past. “I think the people in the town have had enough. I think that the people in the town are going to stand up for what they believe in, what their gut tells them, and their gut tells them that something needs to change.”
During the protest that involved mostly senior citizens and families, a state law enforcement officer in an unmarked patrol car sat just down the street monitoring the protest. "That's just funny," one elderly senior citizens said. "They are sitting here watching us as if we are going to do something wrong. When are they going to look into a mayor that thinks he can play policeman and ruin the real, trained officers that have served our town in the process?" That citizen went on to say, "It's high time that someone looked into a mayor who has delusional thoughts that he's a police man when he's not and never has been . I really believe he's got a problem that makes him believe that he' a law enforcement officer when it's obvious that he could never pass the physical fitness part of that process."
Throughout the afternoon, Judy Cooper and other volunteers were allowing citizens to drive through the area where the protest occurred at the town hall to sign a petition demanding that Mayor Wells step down. In the first hour, approximately 70 people had signed that, and the protestors said that they would be there as long as others were coming by to sign it. She said that she and others would be at the next town council meeting in November to present the results of Saturday’s petition drive to the town officially.