The Bibb County Sheriffs Office has beefed up patrols around the Freedom Park sports complex after a shootout near the ballparks Tuesday.
Five to eight shots rang out from two opposing groups of men just as evening games were about to begin at the Payne City fields. Two of the shooters were near the outfield of a girls softball field at the time.
Sheriffs investigators arrested two people after the gunfire. Travon Quantez Ridley, 21, of Sunnydale Drive was arrested near the park after investigators learned that he was wanted on an unrelated charge of criminal trespass. He was carrying a gun. Deputies later stopped a car seen leaving the park, and a 16-year-old occupant who was carrying a gun was charged with possession of a firearm by an underage person.
Bibb County Sheriff David Davis said Wednesday it was the first major episode this year near the ball fields. Davis met with officials from the softball league and Vine Ingle Little League, which also has two fields in the complex.
He said he plans to increase patrols in the neighborhood, especially during games and practices. Thats on top of the off-duty deputies that Vine Ingle hires for security during games.
Were going to have more units out there to respond to situations, Davis said. But the kind of people youre dealing with, they have no conscience, no sane reason that stops them from pulling out a pistol around so many people. You hope (the added patrols) are some kind of deterrence, but (the gunmen) came within 50 feet of hundreds of people, and they didnt seem to care about witnesses or anyone else.
Every year we seem to have some kind of incident, and we have had increased patrols in the neighborhood. Since we stepped up our patrols, its been fairly quiet until Tuesdays shootout.
Davis said investigators still dont know what prompted the gunfire.
Macon-Bibb County Recreation Director Dale Doc Dougherty said his daughter played softball at Freedom Park on Tuesday night and that his wife and children were in the stands.
Anything that happens close to one of our parks, thats a concern, he said.
Because the incident took place near Freedom Park but not on the property, Dougherty said theres little his department can do other than contact the sheriffs office. In December, a 16-year-old was shot in the shoulder in Freedom Park.
Message to parents
Mel Jamison, president of Vine Ingle Little League, sent out a letter Wednesday to inform parents of the gunshots and of the increased patrols.
We take the safety of the kids as well as the parents very seriously, Jamison said. We had already hired off-duty deputies to be at our games. These incidents happen, as unfortunate as they are.
Jamison said hes keeping in contact with the sheriffs office, but I dont know what would have prevented this.
Vine Ingle Little League has been around for 60 years, mostly in this location, he said.
We have a very rich tradition of Little League baseball. ... Its disappointing to have this image hurt the league weve worked so hard to build.
Jamison said the board has considered moving the league to a new location in the past, and he expects the board to consider the issue again in the future.
It will definitely come up, he said. If we, as a board, feel like (moving) is something we need to do, then well pursue it.
At the Freedom Park fields Wednesday evening, parents and grandparents said that while the incident was a concern, it wasnt enough to withdraw from the softball league.
Parents who are concerned and are licensed to carry a firearm should do so, one man said.
My advice is to take care of yourself, said Brian Whitehead, who has three daughters who play softball.
Bring something to protect yourself, if thats what it takes.
Whitehead, who said he didnt carry a weapon to the field, said even with the presence of deputies, hes still concerned. But a similar incident could happen anywhere.
Thats the nature of our country, he said. There are people out there with no regard for others.
Ed Hutcherson, who was at the field Wednesday to watch his granddaughter play, said its not the first time an incident has happened in the area, and he would like to see the league move to another part of Macon.
We need to do something and go to a new park out of the danger zone, he said.
Hutcherson said he also thinks people with gun permits have the right to defend themselves. However, he said he left his gun in his truck and didnt take it to the field.
Davis said that while it may not be illegal under Georgias new gun laws to take a weapon to the field, he encourages parents to let his deputies do their job.
What I would hope is that good common sense would prevail, he said. I would hope (parents) would have proper training and not devolve to the same level as the ruthless people out shooting.
Anyone with information in Tuesdays case is asked to contact the Bibb County Sheriffs Office at 478-751-7500 or Macon Regional Crimes-toppers at 1-877-68CRIME.