Four-hour rampage disrupts state fair
By DONG-PHUONG NGUYEN, Times Staff Writer
TAMPA -- It was opening weekend, the price of unlimited rides was covered by a $20 armband and most students had the day off from school.
Hillsborough sheriff's officials said those factors helped create a chaotic Friday night at the Florida State Fair, where 50 to 70 young adults ran wild throughout the midway area for several hours, damaging game booths, fighting, knocking people down and scattering from deputies.
By evening's end, deputies had made 28 arrests, most of them for fighting. The group, primarily young males, would fight with each other, disperse when authorities arrived, regather and fight again.
The melee lasted four hours.
"You'd go in there, get two or three at a time," said sheriff's Lt. Rod Reder. "They'd split up and divide up in the midway and regather and just start running wild. They were just laughing and having a good old time."
The problems began about 8 p.m., Reder said. By midnight, things were under control with the help of pepper spray, an entire squad of on-duty deputies and extra transport wagons.
All the while, the more than 70,000 fairgoers went about their way.
"They just kind of let them go by and got out of the way when they saw them coming," Reder said. "There was no mass panic, no bodies lying all over the ground. The potential could have been worse."
While some innocent fairgoers may have been shoved or touched inappropriately, deputies were not able to take down individual complaints.
"We were just trying to hold it down to chaos level," Reder said. "You can't stop and do an hour report."
Saturday, fair officials said they had no plans to beef up security. They wouldn't say how many officers are assigned to crowd control.
"It was a rowdy crowd, more so than usual," said Fair Authority spokeswoman Lizz Harmon. "But there was no mayhem, no melee. There was nothing that anyone was particularly alarmed about."
Friday nights are always busy for the fair, and this was the first of the event's 12-day run. It also was a school holiday for most Hillsborough County students and the first armband special, when patrons can buy a $20 band that entitles them to unlimited rides.
But Reder said he hasn't seen anything like this disruption in years.
"We had some moments similar to this," he said, "but I can't recall making (this many) arrests in one day in the last few years."
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