SALEMBURG — Lakewood Country Club isn’t a place where the sound of gunshots ring through the early-morning air only to be followed by a caravan of blue lights, people fleeing on foot and vehicles screeching recklessly away, residents say.
“I think people are hearing about it and assume it’s characteristic and normal for this kind of thing to go on,” said Sue Strickland, noting the massive media coverage an incident Sunday garnered. “That couldn’t be farther from the truth.”
A Roseboro man suffered fatal gunshot wounds and five others had to be treated for stab, gunshot and assault injuries stemming from a private party at the Lakewood clubhouse in the early-morning hours Sunday, response to which also injured a sheriff’s deputy. The investigation is ongoing, with arrests yet to be made as of late Wednesday.
Residents, including Sue and Jefferson Strickland, said Lakewood Country Club is — and always will be — their home.
Since 1966, it has served as a serene place “among large long leaf pines populated by amazing fox squirrels,” as its website states. The Stricklands have been residents for more than four decades, their house situated just across Country Club Road from the pool, clubhouse and the 18-hole golf course.
“We’ve been here for 42 years,” said Jefferson Strickland. “We raised our family here. It’s been a wonderful community to raise a family.”
He implored those who might not know Lakewood to “come experience it” for themselves.
“The community, the neighbors … it’s a very caring community,” said Strickland, a former county commissioner for the district encompassing Salemburg and portions of Roseboro. His community involvements too lengthy to mention, Strickland also previously served on the Lakewood Country Club Board of Directors for a time.
He and Sue were early members of the club, joining in 1967 — just a year after it opened — when they lived in Roseboro. They bought a lot at the country club in 1972 and officially moved into their new house in 1974.
In those 40-plus years, they had never experienced anything like what transpired Sunday.
“I heard a noise and got up,” said Strickland, recalling that morning. He thought it was the air conditioner. “I adjusted the thermostat and went back to bed, but then I heard the noise again.”
He went out to investigate the clamor and found it was coming from the clubhouse area.
“There was traffic on the road, which was unusual around 2:30 or 3 in the morning,” said Strickland. The Stricklands have heard loud music coming from many different clubhouse gatherings as well as children playing at swimming pools before. These weren’t those kind of noises.
“Sometimes you can hear music, but never anything like this,” said Sue, who was soon up with her husband and standing in their front yard. “This was entirely different. The noise was awful.”
Around that time, they saw the first patrol car approaching, blue lights piercing the darkness.
“It was just a matter of minutes before it was a stream of blue lights,” said Sue, who noted seeing people fleeing the establishment on foot as vehicles peeled away, some inflicting damage on the way. “We were sort of in shock about it. It’s very unfortunate.”
Authorities continue to track leads in Sunday’s fatal melee, with deputies still attempting to gather enough evidence on “persons of interest” to establish probable cause that would lead to warrants being issued.
“There were approximately 100 people, if not more,” Sheriff’s Capt. Eric Pope has said of the brawl. The facility was rented out for a “private party” by a non-club member, details of which have not been released by the club or sheriff’s officials. Curt Pritchard, Lakewood’s director of golf operations, declined comment on anything related to the incident, referring all inquiries to the Sampson County Sheriff’s Office.
On Lakewood Country Club’s website, it states that the goal of the club is to “provide outstanding recreational value for the whole family.”
“The people we meet each day and the smiles we see when someone plays our course or sees our facilities is what makes us want to make your experience at Lakewood one you will always remember,” the club’s introduction reads.
The Stricklands said that goal still rings true, despite Sunday’s freak occurrence.
“I watched this place grow from a few houses to about 50 now,” Jefferson Strickland said. “I’ve never denied my feelings about loving Lakewood, loving Salemburg and loving Roseboro — and I do.”
He said Lakewood’s inclusive nature, whether it is one member helping another or reaching out to the rest of Sampson and beyond, is one of the traits he loves most about his quaint community.
“We reach out to non-members to enjoy the facility and do things to accommodate the community as much as we can,” he said, crediting Pritchard for ushering in a bevy of activities that appeal to the masses and help others. “He’s done a wonderful job.”
One of those activities helped less fortunate children across Sampson County this past Christmas.
Lakewood’s inaugural toy drive, spearheaded by Curt and his wife Lynn, collected nearly 400 toys — $12,000 worth — at the clubhouse that allowed each of the 130 foster children in the care of Sampson County’s Department of Social Services to receive three toys apiece. Helping the community is what Lakewood is about, residents said.
“I love Sampson County and its people and we all have communities we love,” Jefferson Strickland remarked. “I love Lakewood.”
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