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Blaine Varner killed in Sumter shooting, coroner says

SUMTER, S.C. — Sumter police are searching for those responsible for shooting and killing a man in broad daylight.

Officers say the victim, who the coroner has identified as 59-year-old Blaine Varner, was a bystander to a gun battle happening between two cars Monday near Broad Street.

Late Wednesday afternoon, Tandem Health, a community healthcare provider in Sumter, confirmed to News19 that Varner was a longtime employee there. Varner was a physician assistant and was a graduate of Central Michigan University.

The Sumter Police Department says it is actively investigating the incident, which happened just after 12:30 on Monday afternoon.

“Nobody wants their worst nightmare to come true,” Sumter resident Lucy Mahon.

That’s why Mahon says she looked into installing bulletproof glass in her home.

“That’s how bad it’s gotten, where I’ve actually looked into the different options for that. And so when you start to worry about just random bullets flying through your house,” Mahon elaborated. “It’d be nice to not have to pray so hard for your children to be safe. I’d like to live in a community where we’re not thinking about that every time they walk out the door.”

Mahon lives near North Purdy Street with her wife Christi Brownlow, where police say gunfire erupted Monday in the middle of the afternoon.

“It’s really disturbing because, you know, we’re in our homes and I have two teenage boys that are really active and they walk, they bike all downtown. And it does not feel like a safe place for them to be and for us to be,” Brownlow shared. “It just seems like every single night you hear gunfire.”

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In a statement posted to Facebook, the Sumter Police Department said calls reported gunfire from two cars. Varner, who was driving in the area and was not involved in the incident, was hit by the bullets.  “As officers were responding, they learned of a nearby vehicle that veered off the road,” police stated. “Officers found the driver injured from what appeared to be a gunshot and provided care at the scene.”

Police say Varner was transported to a hospital, where he later died.

Valli Finney has lived nearby since 2019.

“We do have people who cut through our neighborhood that are doing the unsavory things,” Finney detailed. “So being so close to Broad, we get all that cut through traffic.”

Finney said she’s noticed an increase in crime in the last five to six years.

“Lately, it’s been getting more common. I have actually had to call in a few times myself about shots fired within the area,” Finney explained. “I think law enforcement needs to step up and give the people basic information…I’m afraid what this community is going to start doing unless transparency comes back so people know what to watch for, where to watch for.”

Mikyle McGuire works at a barbershop along Broad Street and says he wants an end to the violence.

“I feel like the violence needs to stop though,” McGuire said. “For sure.”

Monica McGraw lives nearby and says she was home with her wife when she heard a series of loud noises on Monday afternoon.

“We were sitting in our front room here, and it was like around like 12:30, we heard a few like sounds that could have been like a car backfiring or gunshots, fireworks,” McGraw remembered. “I think the first thought was just like my family’s safety and making sure that we were clear of any, like, windows or anything that was happening in case it was gunshots.”

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When she found out it was gunfire, McGraw says she was saddened by the news.

“It’s tragic,” McGraw said. “I mean, it’s not anything you want to hear about happening in your neighborhood. It’s not anything you want to hear about happening in the town but hopefully it brings awareness and change to the area.”

McGraw says she thinks that change might come through more traffic control in the area.

“I think the traffic that we get on this road, everyone’s always speeding by,” McGraw shared. “I think that’s a big thing, especially in this area, just some traffic control and helping people slow down and be more careful, especially there’s so many kids and young families in the area.”

For Finney, she hopes educating the youth, starting “no later than middle school” would help.

“We need to get our people stabilized at a younger age, especially in this day and age and things have just started getting so much worse,” Finney expanded.

Also, Finney believes more transparency from law enforcement is the answer. But, Mahon says, “the community has to be the answer. Law enforcement can’t bear the burden of fixing this problem alone.”

“That’s where it has to start,” Mahon elaborated. “Most problems like this can’t be solved by one entity. It takes a community of people that are willing to come together and say, ‘We’re not going to tolerate this kind of violence in our community anymore.”

Police are asking people with any information describing the vehicles or people involved to report tips.

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To report information anonymously, you can call Crimestoppers at 1-888-CRIME-SC or submit tips online at P3tips.com or by using the P3tips app that is available for iOS (Apple) or Android devices. You can also contact the Sumter Police Department immediately at 803-436-2700.

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