Patrols increased near Payne City ball fields

pramati@macon.comMay 7, 2014 

The Bibb County Sheriff’s 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.

Sheriff’s 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. That’s on top of the off-duty deputies that Vine Ingle hires for security during games.

“We’re going to have more units out there to respond” to situations,” Davis said. “But the kind of people you’re 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 didn’t 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, it’s been fairly quiet” until Tuesday’s shootout.

Davis said investigators still don’t 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, that’s a concern,” he said.

Because the incident took place near Freedom Park but not on the property, Dougherty said there’s little his department can do other than contact the sheriff’s 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 he’s keeping in contact with the sheriff’s office, but “I don’t 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. ... It’s disappointing to have this image hurt the league we’ve 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 we’ll pursue it.”

At the Freedom Park fields Wednesday evening, parents and grandparents said that while the incident was a concern, it wasn’t 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 that’s what it takes.”

Whitehead, who said he didn’t carry a weapon to the field, said even with the presence of deputies, he’s still concerned. But a similar incident could happen anywhere.

“That’s 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 it’s 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 didn’t take it to the field.

Davis said that while it may not be illegal under Georgia’s 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 Tuesday’s case is asked to contact the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office at 478-751-7500 or Macon Regional Crimes-toppers at 1-877-68CRIME.

The Telegraph is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service