NEW PORT RICHEY — Hoping to erase the memory of gunfire and chaos from a fatal shooting the day before, Lonnie Spencer returned to the streets of downtown Sunday to try again to enjoy Chasco Fiesta.
"It was just awful," said Spencer, smoking a cigarette and clutching a cup of coffee in the shade of an awning. "I've been coming here for 30 years or so, like, forever. Nothing like that had ever happened before."
The festivity of Chasco Fiesta took an unexpectedly violent turn Saturday night, ending with the shooting death of a still unidentified 34-year-old man, and with a 46-year-old Holiday man facing a charge of first-degree murder.
Authorities said Max Wesley Horn Jr. and another man got into an argument near the front door of Hot Shotz Bar and Grill in downtown New Port Richey about 9:40 p.m. The fight quickly escalated in front of dozens of witnesses, many of whom had been attending a Rock 'n' Roll Tribute Day at nearby Sims Park as part of Chasco Fiesta.
Horn allegedly pulled a .45 caliber handgun from under his shirt and shot the man several times at close range. Horn then tried to run away but several witnesses chased him down and held him for police.
While he was being handcuffed and placed into a patrol car, Horn allegedly told officers, "he's been asking for it for a long time. He's been stalking my sister," according to an arrest report.
The victim, who was unarmed, was pronounced dead at North Bay Hospital about 10:30 p.m.
Horn was held without bail in the Pasco County jail in Land O' Lakes on Sunday. A woman who identified herself as Horn's wife picked up the phone at their Holiday home said only: "I'm sorry. I'm not supposed to say anything."
Hours later and only a block away from the scene of the shooting, the owner of Hot Shotz wanted to make it clear that neither Horn nor the victim had been inside the bar on Saturday night. Carl Mowry said he heard only the gunshots but saw the chaotic aftermath.
"The streets got a little crazy," Mowry said. "There were probably 200 people in the street who saw that. Stuff happens, you know? But this is the first time we've ever had problems."
Immediately after the shooting, New Port Richey officers shut down the Chasco Carnival about an hour early to clear out the crime scene. But police are making no plans to adjust security for the rest of the event, which runs through next Sunday.
"Nothing's being planned as far as I know," New Port Richey Assistant police Chief Darryl Garman said.
Meanwhile, revelers at Chasco Fiesta, the oldest, largest and longest public event in Pasco County, seemed intent on having a good time despite the trouble of the night before. At Sims Park, there was little clue that someone had been shot to death only blocks away. People enjoyed the playful screams of children on carnival rides, the smell of beer and hot dogs and the roar of motorcycles.
"I heard something about (the shooting) this morning, but it's been almost perfect today," said Chris Kaduk, who brought out his 1937 Ford Deluxe for the car show. "There's been lots of people out and about here. When you live in New Port Richey, Chasco is part of your livelihood. It's part of the uniqueness of the town."
The Chasco Fiesta celebration got its start in 1922 as a sort of fundraiser for the Avery Library in New Port Richey, according to the West Pasco Historical Society. The event focuses on the area's American Indian heritage, with the centerpiece being a full-scale Native American Festival in Sims Park throughout the 11-day event.
Chasco Fiesta features daily live entertainment, a carnival, a flea market/crafts fair, special food events, a car show, sports tournaments, kayak and foot races, the naming of a Queen Chasco and King Pithla, and two large parades.
Joel Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 754-6120.