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Social media, inadequate security turn teenage parties deadly

TAMPA — The rental hall didn't require security. Mostly used by union members and their families for baby showers and Red Hat Society parties, safety had never been a concern.

Now, two weeks after an out-of-control party ended with two deaths, members of the International Chemical Workers Union Local 439, who own the building, are rethinking that policy.

And they're not alone.

It's not a unique situation, said Larry McKinnon, a spokesman for the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.

Invites go out, a party is thrown and soon hundreds of party crashers flood through the doors. Blame social media or text messaging, but be prepared, warned McKinnon, or things can turn ugly.

That's what happened July 29 at the union's hall on U.S. 41 west of Progress Village, McKinnon said. In a building meant for 78 guests, between 300 and 400 people showed up. Many were uninvited teenagers who heard about the party from friends, he said.

A fight broke out, and soon after midnight, shots were fired, killing both Iesha D. Washington, 18, and Craig A. Thompson, 22. Deputies arrested Tyrell Sidney Bragg, 21, in connection with Washington's death. They are still trying to determine if another person played a role.

A similar situation occurred in Riverview last year. One person, Devante Lamar Dallas, 18, was shot and killed at a graduation party at the Winthrop Barn Theatre on Bloomingdale Avenue. The party had swelled from 70 invited guests to more than 300 attendees.

In both cases, security was inadequate, McKinnon said. Often, those in charge at parties — parents or general security guards — are not trained to react quickly enough, he said.

At the deadly party last year, parents were present. They served chips and soda.

"By the time they call authorities, there are already 300 or 400 people there," McKinnon said. "Once it starts swelling out of hand, security becomes reactionary instead of precautionary."

One way to combat that, McKinnon said, is to hire off-duty police or sheriff's deputies who are trained to react before trouble begins.

"We start seeing it begin to escalate, and we can call in more deputies that are on duty," he said. "We need to get there before it gets out of control."

But trouble isn't just limited to inside. At both of the deadly parties in east Hillsborough, the shootings happened in the parking lots, an often-overlooked area when it comes to security, McKinnon said.

"You have to have layers of security from the perimeter in," he said. "You can't just stand up at the front door and leave the rest a free-for-all."

It's all something Randy Watson, the union's local chapter president, is taking into consideration.

"We are taking measures, tightening up," Watson said. "We will revisit the rules and regulations; a lot of members have expressed concerns."

At the theatre, security requirements vary according to party size and nature, owner John Sullivan said.

If alcohol is served, security is mandatory, he said. Sometimes that includes the use of off-duty officers.

But it's hard to predict when things will get out of hand, he said.

"Security has been a concern here before," Sullivan said. "We just need to be vigilant."

Vigilance is the key to security at the American Legion Post 248 hall on Jamaica Street in Tampa, said the post's commander, Eddie Diaz.

All parties there, regardless of type, are required to hire the hall's chosen security provider, who retain control over the party.

"We give them the power to shut a party down without any recourse," Diaz said. They also have the right to turn people away at the door once a party has reached capacity, he said.

Police are then called in for any issues that do arise, such as fighting, he said.

Problems at parties are not new, and they are not going away. Fights break out, vehicles block driveways and people get rowdy, McKinnon said.

"The main thing is to have a plan in place," he said. "Don't wait until it's a full blown problem before addressing it."

Times researcher Shirl Kennedy and staff writer Ernest Hooper contributed to this report. Shelley Rossetter can be reached at srossetter@sptimes.com or (813) 661-2442.

Social media, inadequate security turn teenage parties deadly 08/11/11 [Last modified: Thursday, August 11, 2011 4:31am]
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