PLANT CITY — The Plant City Christmas Parade will go on with few changes this year, its first since 9-year-old Jordan Hays was run over and killed by a float as he reached for more candy to throw to the crowd.
A January report found that his death could have been prevented and that leaders should change the parade rules. Police Chief Bill McDaniel suggested buying barricades to keep paradegoers off the streets. The city formed a task force, which came up with ideas for making the event safer.
The task force suggested banning beads and candy, prohibiting vehicles with protruding wheels and regulating vendors along the route. In October, the City Commission passed the suggestions as a resolution, which means they aren't enforceable.
"I think the City Commission expected they would be observed," City Manager David Sollenberger said.
Although the barricades were never bought because of budget cuts, parade planners have made several of the suggested changes. Vehicles with protruding wheels will be banned, parade co-chairwoman Fran Neilsen said.
Hays' foot was caught by a float's wheel in the 2007 parade, and he was dragged underneath, authorities said.
Neilsen is careful to say that the parade was not liable for the fatality. Instead, she said they adopted that rule because "it seemed practical."
"It was an accident, a very unfortunate accident," she said. "But we're trying to celebrate our 25th year."
She expects more than 100 floats in the parade, which starts Dec. 5 at 6 p.m. in downtown. The parade draws thousands of people each year.
One surprise for paradegoers will be how Santa arrives. In years past, he has showed up by helicopter, motorcycle sidecar and airboat.
So just how will the jolly old elf make his entrance? Show up and find out, Neilsen said.
Participants will still be allowed to hand out candy, despite the City Commission's opposition.
"A resolution is not a law, it's merely a suggestion, and there is no reason to penalize the children," Neilsen said.
Children love getting candy and beads, she said, "and the parade has always been about the children."
Sollenberger said city-sponsored floats will not provide beads or candy. He also said this year they'll have a command center, which will provide a coordinating center to more quickly dispatch emergency personnel in the case of another incident.
Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 661-2443.