TAMPA, Fla. (970 WFLA) – Hillsborough County community leaders are trying to work together to come up with a solution to prevent another case of ‘wilding’, or ‘raging’, as it’s known. And while law enforcement has been aware of it what it is since the 90’s, Colonel Jim Previtera of the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office says the case Friday Feb. 7 at the Florida state fair was the worst yet.
“Wilding" - where groups of teens stampede through the midway at the Florida State Fair during the first Friday of the fair.
"There were large fights. Some estimates are that there were between 150 and 200 people engaged in a fray at any given time," said Previtera.
Previtera says innocent bystanders were victimized. Even sheriff's deputies were targeted, being pelted with candy apples and other things.
Ninety-nine people were ejected from the midway and there were 12 arrests, including many juveniles.
One 14-year-old who was ejected was struck and killed trying to cross I-4 Friday night. Previtera says none of those ejected where kicked off of fair property. But he says deputies were so overwhelmed, deputies didn't have time to notify each parent.
Fair officials announced late Tuesday it is taking steps to curb such outbreaks by requiring that any minor presenting a free entry ticket after 7 p.m. be accompanied by an adult.
In the meantime, Hillsborough Sheriff David Gee reached out to community leaders in an effort to stop teen 'wilding' at the fair. Previtera said Thursday on AM Tampa Bay they can't arrest their way out of this problem.
“When these kids come out of the midway if they decide they want to crash up and down the Midway, they’re going to have to crash through their community. They’re not just going to be facing down law enforcement they’re going to be facing down their coaches, their principals, their pastors, their neighborhood leaders, and family friends. We’re all going to be joining together to solve this problem,” Previtera said.
In Gee's candid letter, the sheriff said he was concerned about the overwhelming number of youth arrested or ejected that were African-American and asks the county's African-American community for assistance in coming up with a way to deter these incidents in the future.
James Cole Junior heads the sheriff's black advisory council says that's acceptable as long as the focus is on solving the problem.
“What are some of the things that are sending messages to our youth; that violence is in the form entertainment, that violence is something that you can do on your down time to have fun,” Cole said.
The Tampa NAACP chapter is holding a meeting about the situation Feb 20.
Previtera says there is now extra security for the rest of this year's fair, which runs through February 17th. He says there'll likely be some changes for next year's fair, including the possibility of limiting the hours students can get in for free.
You can listen to both Previtera and Cole’s full interviews below.
Photo Credit 970 WFLA/E. Youker
Col. James Previtera Interview
James Cole Jr. interview