Grand Strand

Grand Strand lawmakers seek tougher penalties for looters

COLUMBIA, SC (WBTW) - After three devastating floods in the last four years, several Grand Strand lawmakers want to crack down on anyone who loots during a state of emergency.

As Hurricane Florence prepared to make landfall in the Carolinas, Horry County Police Chief Joseph Hill had a strong warning to looters.

"We ensure the public and the criminals out there, we will come after you if you decide this is an opportunity for you to loot our county," Chief Hill said, during a press conference in September.

About five months after Florence, five Grand Strand lawmakers push for harsher penalties for anyone looting during a state of emergency.

"People need to feel secure in their homes and in their possessions, especially at a time where they are most vulnerable," said Rep. Russell Fry, R-Surfside Beach.

A bill in the state House of Representatives would change a felony looting charge and make it first-degree burglary. Felony looting has no minimum sentence, but first-degree burglary does.

A first-degree burglary sentence can range from 15 years to life in prison.

"It increases those penalties to people, especially during a time of emergency, so that we really get to the heart of the matter and that we make sure that we don't tolerate this," Rep. Fry said.

Rep. Fry is one of the sponsors of the bill. He's joined by Rep. Lee Hewitt, R-Murrells Inlet, Rep. Kevin Hardee, R-Loris, Rep. Alan Clemmons, R-Myrtle Beach, and Rep. William Bailey, R-North Myrtle Beach.

Rep. Fry says looting has been a growing problem during the last three major floods, including the ones in October 2015 and after Hurricane Matthew.

"People's possessions were in their front yards, just drying out or they were trying to figure something out to do with them," he said. "They wake up the next morning and their possessions that were on their porch are gone too."

It would also apply to more than hurricanes.

"For terrorism, for earthquakes, it could be natural disasters, man-made disasters, wherever there is a state of emergency," said Rep. Fry. "It could be snow."

Rep. Fry also says South Carolina is among a few states that have specific looting laws. The legislation would also apply to businesses, in addition to homes.

The bill was introduced Thursday and is now in the House judiciary committee.


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