Tuesday, September 25, 2018
Public safety

One year after deaths, Sunset Music Festival kicks off with emphasis on water and security

TAMPA — Before the beat drops, or even builds, you hear Steve-O.

"If you don't get water you're lame!"

"Hey! Free water! Come on!"

His voice spills over the yellow grass outside Raymond James Stadium. He sounds hoarse, almost desperate, trying out new lines, anything to pull people into his white tent. Steve-O, whose proper name is Steve Raymond, plunges his hand into a long cooler, pushing aside ice to grab another half pint.

"I can't feel my hands. At least take my water, please!"

It's nearly 90 degrees and cloudless. A perfect day for the kickoff of the Sunset Music Festival. But everything that makes the day perfect — clear sky, hot sun — also makes it a threat. Last year, two people died at Sunset following drug overdoses.

The festival brings some of the country's top electronic dance music acts to Tampa, and with them, a concert culture that has drawn heat for its ties to Molly, the street name for MDMA. Overdosed fans at festivals grow dehydrated, too hot, their hearts racing, and pass out. After the deaths at last year's festival, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn condemned the event, asking it to never come back.

But a year later, Sunset has returned, its glitter-coated followers descending on Dale Mabry in tank tops, dayglow swimsuits, and less. This year, promoters vowed to have heightened security, more shady areas to cool down, and more water. Raymond, 22, of New Port Richey, is the first line of defense.

"Ain't nobody passing out on my watch!"

Behind him, his girlfriend, Samantha McLellan, 25, scrambles to keep pace, ripping open the shrink wrap on 8-ounce water bottles with her fingers. She has been to the festival before and said security was definitely tighter this year.

"The kids, they're just getting reckless," she said.

Raymond was at Sunset in 2016 when 22-year-old Alex Haynes, of Melbourne, and 21-year-old Katie Bermudez, of Kissimmee, died. He saw two people pass out in front of him at the general admission line, where for $10 an hour, he now stood hawking water in a white festival T-shirt.

"This is extremely important," Raymond said.

Last year, organizers said, workers handed out 18,000 free bottles of water. They expected to surpass that in 2017, with an anticipated attendance of about 50,000 people.

In the lines to enter, trained dogs from a private company (a new addition) wove between people's legs, sniffing for drugs. Signs out front warned that everyone would be searched, that narcotics laws would be strictly enforced. But the K9s, panting in vests that warned "Do Not Pet," kept stopping, noses pointed at new suspects.

Like the push to drink water, concertgoers said, the security was intense. Nick Borders, 20, of Plant City, said he has been to the festival three times and the wait to get in was long this year.

"This line was a lot slower," he said. "I won't lie."

Inside the festival, people sat in the grass in cooling areas and waited at hydration trailers, filling up backpacks with water. Big fans blew mist in front of the main stage.

Mike Cooke, 25, of Bradenton, said he has been to several electronic music festivals, though never Sunset, and he was impressed at the speed of the water fill-up stations in Tampa.

"The water lines are going real fast," he said.

Outside the festival, the wait to get in eased as the afternoon dragged. Raymond stayed by his station after the first acts took the stage, moving onto a second pallet of bottles.

"Do not pass out, or I'll come fill you with water," he screamed. "Tell them about the free water guy. Come on!"

Times staff writers Sara DiNatale and Jay Cridlin contributed to this report. Contact Zachary T. Sampson at [email protected] Follow @ZackSampson.

   
Comments
Deputy's wife texted 'Kirk has lost his mind' before murder-suicide, friend says

Deputy's wife texted 'Kirk has lost his mind' before murder-suicide, friend says

LAND O’LAKES — Samantha Keithley sent a series of disturbing text messages late Sunday, complaining about her husband to a longtime friend.“Kirk has lost his mind Kristin,” she wrote in one text to friend Kristin Kellin. &...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Shooter in Clearwater parking space incident makes bail

Shooter in Clearwater parking space incident makes bail

LARGO — Michael Drejka, the man who shot and killed Markeis McGlockton in a case that set off a national debate about self-defense in July, was released from the Pinellas County Jail on Monday afternoon.Always Available Bail Bonds posted $100,000 bai...
Updated: 11 hours ago
John Jonchuck set for spring 2019 trial in death of daughter Phoebe

John Jonchuck set for spring 2019 trial in death of daughter Phoebe

CLEARWATER — The day John Jonchuck was supposed to go on trial in the murder of his 5-year-old daughter, attorneys met instead to discuss a new trial date.The trial was delayed after Jonchuck’s attorneys raised concerns about one of the prosecutors’ ...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Firefighters respond to blaze in Lakewood High School gymnasium

Firefighters respond to blaze in Lakewood High School gymnasium

St. Petersburg firefighters responded to a blaze early Monday that began in the center of the gymnasium at Lakewood High School.According to St. Petersburg Fire Rescue, firefighters arrived on the south side of the school at 1400 54th Ave. S about 5:...
Published: 09/24/18
Pinellas sheriff’s SUV struck in chain-reaction crash on Trinity Boulevard

Pinellas sheriff’s SUV struck in chain-reaction crash on Trinity Boulevard

TARPON SPRINGS — A Pinellas sheriff’s deputy was caught up in a chain-reaction crash that took place early Monday at the intersection of Trinity Boulevard and East Lake Road. The crash took place at about 6:28 a.m., according to the Pinellas County S...
Published: 09/24/18
Dallas police say Officer Amber Guyger, accused of fatally shooting neighbor in his own apartment, has been fired

Dallas police say Officer Amber Guyger, accused of fatally shooting neighbor in his own apartment, has been fired

DALLAS — A white police officer accused of fatally shooting her black neighbor inside his own apartment was fired Monday for "adverse conduct," the Dallas Police Department said in a statement.Police Chief U. Renee Hall dismissed Officer Amber Guyger...
Published: 09/24/18
Pasco deputies identify body of man found in wooded Wesley Chapel campsite

Pasco deputies identify body of man found in wooded Wesley Chapel campsite

WESLEY CHAPEL — The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office has identified a body discovered Saturday in a wooded area as a 60-year-old Hillsborough County man.Two people flagged down a deputy Saturday to report a decomposing body in the woods north of Beardsl...
Published: 09/24/18
Five new details on Clearwater parking space shooting

Five new details on Clearwater parking space shooting

More than two months have passed since Michael Drejka shot Markeis McGlockton in the parking lot of a convenience store.While developments in the headline-grabbing case have slowed to a trickle as it crawls through the court system, the Tampa Bay Tim...
Published: 09/24/18
Hillsborough asking why rescue captain stayed back as patient’s friends performed CPR

Hillsborough asking why rescue captain stayed back as patient’s friends performed CPR

TAMPA — It was almost 4 a.m. when the man’s friends found him unconscious in a Riverview home and called 911.His breath was shallow and he was turning blue. With the 911 call-taker giving instructions, his friends performed CPR and waited.Ten minutes...
Published: 09/24/18
Police in St. Petersburg searching for missing elderly man

Police in St. Petersburg searching for missing elderly man

Police in St. Petersburg are searching for a missing elderly man.Shortly after 5 p.m., Frederick Mein, 86, drove his silver Toyota Tacoma pickup truck from his home on the 1500 block of 78th Avenue N to his daughter’s house a couple of miles away. He...
Published: 09/23/18