Couple tells of attacks at fair

Published February 14, 2007

TAMPA - The young couple went to the Florida State Fair on Friday. Newcomers from the North, they rode the Ferris wheel, played arcade games and ate cheese fries and caramel apples.

They had such a great time they stayed until the fair closed.

And then the night took a turn.

Cristina Vatalaro, 23, said she and boyfriend Gage Ommundsen, 22, were in the parking lot headed toward their car when a group of about 30 teens ran at them, throwing punches at both, knocking Ommundsen to the ground and stealing his hooded sweater.

Stunned, the two returned to the gate, Vatalaro said Tuesday, and inside they met about eight others who had been attacked by teens. Some were bruised, she said. One man had a black eye.

When the couple approached a uniformed officer, he said he couldn't help them, Vatalaro said.

"We looked a little battered," she said.

"He didn't give us even the time of day."

A fair spokeswoman said she hadn't heard of any such attacks, not this week and not in her decade with the fair.

Sheriff's spokeswoman Debbie Carter said she wasn't aware of any large groups of teens attacking fairgoers, but deputies have noticed teen groups causing trouble at the fair.

The Hillsborough Sheriff's Office arrested nine people at the fairgrounds over the weekend.

All were teens. Among the charges: fighting, disorderly conduct and carrying a concealed weapon.

Vatalaro said if she had known crime was an issue, she and her boyfriend would have started and ended their outing earlier in the night.

She still has a golf ball-sized lump on the back of her head and a sore torso.

Her boyfriend, a college student from New Hampshire, has scrapes above his left shoulder blade, a walnut-sized lump near his left collarbone and a sore jaw, she said.

"Besides all this, we had a great time," she said. "It was a really horrible ending."