What happened outside Dunleavy's Pub on Sullivan's Island shortly after midnight on a Saturday earlier this month still isn't fully known. All that's certain is it involved a golf cart and prompted an arrest.
And a change in South Carolina law that will go into effect next month should make it easier for authorities to crack down on golf cart drivers accused of running afoul of the rules. The law has long carried various restrictions, such as a prohibition on night driving, but officials said they are sometimes difficult to enforce.
The recent beachside incident, police alleged in affidavits, began around 12:50 a.m. Oct. 6 when Eric Bowman, owner of the Charleston Battery soccer team, got into his golf cart to avoid paying a $124 tab and struck a pedestrian.
The 38-year-old resident of Marshall Boulevard on Sullivan's Island faces charges of second-degree assault and battery, and leaving the scene of an accident.
Bowman disputes that version of events.
"Three men I have never seen before accosted us in the alley as my wife and I were leaving for home," he said in a statement. "My wife ran back inside. I escaped and immediately called 911. We were on a friend's tab, and it had already been paid."
Bowman called the story "outrageous" and the allegations "very serious."
Sullivan's Island town and police officials did not respond to multiple requests for an interview or written comments.
As golf carts move off the green and onto public roads, lawmakers and others have become increasingly wary and are working to regulate their use. A new law that's slated to take effect Nov. 19 will make it easier for officers to cite irresponsible drivers, a move that many hope will curb poor behavior.
To drive a golf cart in South Carolina, you must:
- Be at least 16 years old
- Have a valid driver's license
- Have the cart registered with the S.C. Department of Motor Vehicles
- Have proof of liability insurance
- Display a state permit decal
- Only drive during daylight hours
- Only drive within 4 miles of the address on the registration certificate
- Only drive on roadways with a speed limit of 35 mph or less
- Not drive on a bike path.
These regulations have been in place for years but were difficult to enforce because of a loophole, according to Stephan Futeral, an attorney in Mount Pleasant.
When the revised law goes into effect, violating any golf cart rule will be a misdemeanor punishable with a maximum fine of $100 or 30 days in jail, unless the offense is deemed to be a felony.
These punishments are currently laid out in a section of law that doesn't directly apply to golf carts. The change, which also applies to mopeds and other low-speed vehicles, will give officers a clearer way of issuing citations.
"By and large, there wasn't really anything to stick it under," the attorney said. "It didn't have a lot of teeth before. This takes it a step above a traffic violation."
Futeral said he receives a significant number of phone calls from neighborhood associations complaining about people misusing these vehicles, and he worries that it's all too easy for some to view golf carts as toys.
"A lot of people are surprised to learn that there are restrictions," the attorney said. "They seem like they would just be a harmless, fun vehicle."
But the consequences of mishandling a golf cart can be grave, Futeral said. They are easy to roll over and offer no protection in crashes. Ultimately, they were never designed for use on public roads, he said.
Inspector Chip Googe, a spokesman for the Mount Pleasant Police Department, said the carts are very popular in many areas of the town. But his department has not recorded a large number of crashes or incidents involving the vehicles.
What Mount Pleasant police do get, however, are complaints about reckless golf cart driving by young teens, especially in the summer months, Googe said.
He encouraged all parents to ensure their children follow the rules of the road when operating a golf cart.
Charleston Police Lt. Matt Wojslawowicz said a similar situation is unfolding in the Holy City.
With nice weather most of the year and small neighborhoods conducive to modes of transportation other than cars, golf carts are an appealing alternative, Wojslawowicz said.
While he was not able to provide statistics on golf cart-related incidents, the lieutenant said he was not aware of any significant crashes or other incidents in Charleston that resulted in serious injury or death.
Wojslawowicz did say, however, that he often sees golf carts being misused, especially by being driven at night.
"Education is always key," he said. "While they're on the street, (they) should follow the rules of the road. I think it's perfectly safe and obviously legal for (cars and golf carts) to coexist together. People should just be observant."