COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The South Carolina Gamecocks will play their first night game Saturday under the lights at Williams Brice Stadium, taking the field against Kentucky during the university’s annual family weekend.
The 7:30 p.m. kickoff will give fans plenty of time to tailgate during the day, but fans are urged to stay vigilant about where they park.
David Ziegler is a lifelong Gamecocks fan, but his experience following the Alabama game on Sept. 14 left a bad taste in his mouth.
“When we pulled into this lot, the lady flagged us in, $20 and it seemed reasonable,” Ziegler explained. “It’s how we’ve done it before so nothing seemed strange about it, she was even joking around with us.”
Ziegler a few dozen other fans parked along a private business near the intersection of Shop Road and Idlewild Boulevard, a short walk from the stadium. After parking, he and his sister walked to their tailgate and eventually made their way to the game.
But as they returned to their car, Ziegler became concerned.
“I noticed the parking area was very empty and I noticed my truck was not there,” Ziegler said.
Ziegler said he and other fans, including several who made the trip from Alabama, discovered their cars had been towed and the woman who collected the initial $20 when they arrived was nowhere to be found.
“We got scammed,” he said. “The woman made off with probably $500 or $600.”
Ziegler filed an incident report with the Richland County Sheriff’s Department, but said he was told there wasn’t much law enforcement could do without knowing the identity of the woman. He and at least a dozen other people who parked in the same area had to pay $225 to get their cars released from the towing company.
Ziegler said he noticed the signs, but the woman waving cars into the lot was convincing and he, along with other fans, never suspected they were being scammed.
“She looked official -- she had the vest, she had the flags, she had her poster board sign, which is by standards of every other parking spot what makes it official,” he said.
The experience was a negative one for everyone involved, but he worries about the feeling it left visiting fans about the city as a whole.
“It leaves a bad taste in your mouth as part of the visiting experience,” he said. “It may make people think they don’t want to come back here.”
Looking back at what happened, surveillance video from a nearby business showed a woman arrive at the private parking lot early. As cars began to trickle in, she was in the road with a parking sign. Once the spaces were full, she disappeared.
According to ARS Towing, the company that contracts with the private business where the cars were parked, its tow trucks began removing cars around halftime of the game.
ARS Towing said it did not receive a call from a private citizen about the cars parked illegally, but that its owner routinely drives around and looks for any vehicles that may be in violation -- such as the case during the game.
Nearby business owners, along with Ziegler, said they got a good look at the woman and hope to provide any information to law enforcement they can. The concern over liability is at the top of their lists, as the cars were parked illegally on private property.
WIS confirmed with the owner of the property the woman did not have permission to be on the property, let alone to park cars along the building.
To avoid being scammed, several business owners along Shop Road and Bluff Road said people shouldn’t park in areas where you see “No Parking” signs or anything indicating your car could be towed as a result -- even if there is a lot attendant collecting money.