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Gasparilla neighbors chronicle the lewd and the nasty

TAMPA — John Jones squeezes his way through a crowd of teenagers clustered on a street just north of the Bayshore Boulevard. He's old enough to be their grandfather.

He watches a girl chug "orange juice" from a plastic jug, a young man pressed against a police cruiser by cops on horseback and glassy-eyed kids leaning on each other to stand up.

"What school do you go to?" the 60-year-old asks a girl in the crowd.

"Tampa Prep," she says.

A boy sitting on the sidewalk looks up at him and asks, "Are you doing a study?"

Something like that.

Jones and his Hyde Park neighbors carried cameras on Saturday, to document what happens when Gasparilla mayhem spills into residential streets.

He's looking for fights. Looking for indecent exposure. Looking for — that guy, right there, urinating on a wall.

Jones pulls his camera phone out of his shirt pocket and aims.

"You're taking a picture?" the man's friend asks.

"Yeah," Jones says.

"What the f--- is wrong with you?"

• • •

For years, neighbors have met with city officials and event organizers to voice the same concerns.

This year, the Historic Hyde Park Neighborhood Association came up with an official position on the situation:

The reserved seating (21,000) and corporate tents (48) take up one half of the parade route along Bayshore, but account for only 7% of the 450,000 people that attend the Parade (TPD estimate).

That puts 93% or approximately 420,000 strangers in our private yards, alleys and streets with only 800 portable toilets (1/525 ratio) …

The reserved seating cost has kept most Hyde Park adult residents away from the parade. This lack of adult attendance has put our youth at great risk to unsupervised alcohol abuse and other related issues.

City officials have heard all the stories.

Shannon Edge, the city's director of neighborhood and community relations, says what shocked her about the neighborhood concerns were not the complaints of drunkenness and public urination, which are well-known, but of open sexual activity involving teenagers.

This year, when the city, event organizers and neighbors planned to meet after the parade, association vice president Jack Wyatt figured the residents should show what they saw, instead of tell.

Other neighborhood associations along Bayshore agreed to help.

• • •

When the parade ends, Jones meets up with Wyatt, who has spent the afternoon volunteering at St. John's Episcopal Church Safe House, a refuge for teenagers who have had too much to drink.

Wyatt has a photo of a stretcher entering the Safe House, and one of a young woman passed out in the bed of a paramedic vehicle.

He's worried about her.

The 20-year-old was found a block away, passed out. Wyatt's daughter was that age five years ago.

The two dads, Wyatt and Jones, walk down Orleans Avenue, a couple sober souls amid a sea of drunks.

Four young men sit by a police cruiser, handcuffed. One of them smiles as Jones takes a picture.

"Thank you," Jones says.

They pass a Dumpster, even though a woman warns, "Not yet!" She's still squatting.

"What do you mean, not yet?" Wyatt yells as he walks away. "It's not a bathroom."

Wyatt gets more pictures from neighbors and friends. They show he's not the only one seeing these things.

Soon, the people in charge will too.

• • •

He walks into his home on Delaware Avenue, happy to see his 25-year-old daughter, Katie. She's surrounded by friends, making a pizza, sober.

"Dad," she tells him, "I got you a picture."

Times staff writer Richard Danielson contributed to this report. Alexandra Zayas can be reached at azayas@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3354.

Parade policing by the numbers

350,000 Crowd estimate.

80 People treated on the parade route by Tampa Fire Rescue paramedics as of 9 p.m. Saturday.

20 The injured who required hospitalization.

0 Number of life-threatening injuries.

2 Number of felony arrests.

4 Boating under the influence charges.

57 Underage drinking charges.

Sources: Tampa Fire Rescue, Tampa Police.

Gasparilla neighbors chronicle the lewd and the nasty 02/07/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 10, 2009 9:02am]
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