Thursday, January 18, 2018
Public safety

Rethinking mob mentality, a state fair tradition

From atop a neon Ferris wheel on a cool February night, you can see the big city high-rises of downtown Tampa. But really, the Florida State Fair is a world away from all that.

It's our annual homage to our agricultural roots. It's cows raised by 4-H kids, splashy midway glitz, rock-and-roll carnival rides and deep-fried everything. It's politicians glad-handing at the governor's luncheon, blue ribbons and shortcake topped with Plant City strawberries.

But there is an uglier tradition, one that has gone on for years, a tradition that took things up a notch as the fair opened last week.

On Friday night of "fair day" — a charming old-Florida throwback that gives kids the day off school and free admission to boot — hundreds of young people went on a midway rampage.

They reportedly fought, threw things, destroyed property and terrorized people. The crowd overwhelmed some 200 sheriff's deputies to the point of shutting the fair down hours early. Sheriff's Col. Jim Previtera told me it was like trying to stop a dam breaking loose.

A fairgoer in a wheelchair had her purse snatched. Glass was broken and garbage cans and candy apples hurled at deputies, which almost sounds funny until you think of the damage they could do. A midway vendor said that when the madness hit, he hid his cash register and lay huddled on the floor of his booth to hide until it was over.

Officers tried to quell this group-insanity and hauled troublemakers off the midway.

And we are so far beyond not-okay here.

In the midst of this was a tragedy, the single miracle being that there was only one.

Amongst the 99 young people kicked out that night — nearly all teenagers — was a 14-year-old boy named Andrew Joseph III, accused of disorderly conduct. He died hours later trying to cross Interstate 4. And this is horrifying.

There is much to talk about in the aftermath of all this.

One — a big one — is the responsibility of adults. Where were the parents of these kids, particularly the youngest of them? Has late night at the fair become teenage day care?

Then, the uncomfortable subject of race. All but three of the young people removed or arrested that night were black, prompting Sheriff David Gee to bring black leaders into the conversation with a letter that calls their help "imperative." And it will be, if there's any chance for change.

Officials need to talk about the tradition of fair Friday. How sad it would be to lose the day of free admission for kids who might not otherwise be able to afford to go, kids more interested in fun than trouble.

This week the Fair Authority began sensible changes, saying after 7 p.m. students would get in free only if accompanied by an adult. And adult supervision can only be good.

The Fair Authority says it's willing to "provide any resources necessary" for security the Sheriff's Office needs, including more deputies. There's talk of observation platforms to put an eye high up.

And security is good. But the biggest change has to be to this mind-set that this kind of dangerous mayhem somehow equals fun — or , at least, that we will tolerate it.

"I think the only thing that solves it is to get the community involved, get the parents involved," Gee says.

It's a start, for one fair tradition that needs to end.

Comments
Police presence at Martin Luther King Jr. Day after-party raises ire

Police presence at Martin Luther King Jr. Day after-party raises ire

ST. PETERSBURG — One after another, speakers stepped to the lectern at City Hall on Thursday and described the same image: police cruisers on every corner in Midtown, uniformed officers lined up across the roadway, souring what should have been a joy...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Tropical Breeze patron rides shuttle to check on crew

Tropical Breeze patron rides shuttle to check on crew

PORT RICHEY — Loretta Santini was one of a small group of customers boarding a Tropical Breeze Casino shuttle Thursday afternoon as the company sailed for the first day since another of its shuttle boats burned to the water Sunday, killing one woman....
Updated: 8 hours ago
DUI arrest: Tampa man mistakes bank drive-thru for Taco Bell

DUI arrest: Tampa man mistakes bank drive-thru for Taco Bell

SPRING HILL — A 38-year-old Tampa man was arrested Wednesday on a charge of driving under the influence involving drugs or alcohol after deputies said he mistook a Bank of America drive-thru for a Taco Bell.The branch manager of the Mariner Boulevard...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Police: ‘Man-bun bandit’ seen stealing packages from Clearwater home

Police: ‘Man-bun bandit’ seen stealing packages from Clearwater home

Clearwater Police are searching for a "man-bun bandit" who is seen stealing packages from a residence.Police on Thursday tweeted this video of the suspect, who is seen attempting to balance multiple packages while gathering them at a home on Majestic...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Captain of casino boat that caught fire says he’s no hero

Captain of casino boat that caught fire says he’s no hero

The captain of a casino boat shuttle that caught fire over the weekend in Port Richey says he’s no hero, despite quickly running his boat aground so that 49 passengers on the vessel could escape.One of those passengers, Carrie Dempsey, a 42-year-old ...
Published: 01/18/18

Two treated at hospital after fire at Apollo Beach home

Two elderly residents were treated at a local hospital after a fire at an Apollo Beach home early Thursday morning.Hillsborough Fire Rescue crews, responding to the 600 block of Flamingo Drive around 4 a.m., found the home fully engulfed in flames.Tw...
Published: 01/18/18

Hernando deputy standoff fueled by day of drinking

William "Cole" Brinson drank all day and had been "trying to start things all evening" before barricading himself in his home north of Brooksville on Jan. 8, according to Hernando County Sheriff’s Office arrest records.It wasn’t the first time, accor...
Published: 01/18/18
‘All I see is fire’: 911 calls released from Florida casino boat fire

‘All I see is fire’: 911 calls released from Florida casino boat fire

PORT RICHEY — The first call came into emergency dispatch at 4 p.m. on Sunday from shore, reporting a ‘giant’ boat on fire in the Pithlachascotee River."It’s urgent," the caller said.Others followed quickly, one woman crying as she described from her...
Published: 01/17/18
Gibsonton man faces 50 counts of child porn

Gibsonton man faces 50 counts of child porn

GIBSONTON — A 46-year-old man was arrested Wednesday by Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents on 50 counts of possession of child pornography and one count of promoting a sexual performance by a child.Authorities said they received several tip...
Published: 01/17/18

He still has nightmares: Deckhand recalls prior casino boat fire

Cory Byrd said he still has nightmares about the smoke. In them, he is back in the cabin of the Express Shuttle II, scrambling to reach the white rectangle of an open door. The smoke was so thick, he said, you could barely see an outstretched hand. ...
Published: 01/17/18