Crowds up, arrests down at Gasparilla


Lusty blue skies Saturday replaced 2010’s sodden dreariness in the chaotic, bawdy, playful and rebellious annual calamity called Gasparilla.

Police reported bigger crowds but fewer arrests.

Saturday proved to be the first tranquil-skies test of the “zero tolerance” policy for festival mischief that police unveiled last year. At Gasparilla, that means arrests for several sins: illegal drinking, fighting and all-too-public urination.

Tampa police reported 349 arrests, most for alcohol violations and all but three misdemeanors. The felonies were charges for grand theft auto, resisting arrest with violence and battery on a law enforcement officer. Hillsborough County deputies made an additional 10 arrests on disorderly conduct or open container charges. Last year, 420 arrests were made at Gasparilla.

“For the amount of interaction, everything went relatively well,” Tampa Assistant Chief Marc Hamlin said. “We have the same posture as we did last year. ... We hope our campaign worked.”

With some of its crews in golf carts or on Segways, Tampa Fire Rescue treated 78 people along the route. Most were minor and caused by alcohol, but crews did treat someone who went into cardiac arrest and took 23 of those injured to hospitals.

Even after the parade ended, medical crews were tending to people -- including one person reported passed out near a bar.

With a George Strait and Reba McEntire concert at the St. Pete Times Forum scheduled for Saturday night along with live music at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park and a street festival on Ashley Drive, police had braced for just about anything.

A measure of sadness accompanied the standard merriment.

The Gasparilla Parade of Pirates began with a tribute to two St. Petersburg police officers killed last Monday. Patrol cars belonging to the slain officers, Thomas Baitinger and Jeffrey Yaslowitz, headed the parade, their lights blinking silently.

And this was the first Gasparilla since the death of Jim Tarbet, executive director of Ye Mystic Krewe, which puts on the parade, who died of cardiac arrest Dec. 2.

But for the most part, it was a bead-happy day for tens of thousands lining the route for a seemingly endless string of floats.

“I’ve never seen so many pirate hats before in my life,” said Dave Thomas, 65, a Toronto man who pitched a beach chair outside the Tampa Convention Center. “I’m sure I saw Capt. Jack Sparrow or at least three guys that look like him.”

As the parade progressed down Bayshore Boulevard toward downtown, college-aged men passed out on ritzy lawns as an older set sipped drinks and chatted amicably in tidy yards.

Not far away, a sheriff’s van with four deputies looked to people strolling by and told those toting alcohol to pour their plastic cups onto Mother Earth.

In recent years, Gasparilla organizers have greatly increased the number of port-a-potties. But lines were often as long as ever. Outside the convention center, a line was 57 swashbucklers deep.

Cheri Stroup, 40, of Wesley Chapel offered a timeless tip: “Bring your own toilet paper.”

One group hoisted a pirate flag at the corner of Ashley Drive and Whiting Street.

Dale Boardman Sr., 53, dressed as his alter ego, Joseph War Skull, in a costume that included a tri-corner hat, black dreads, a flowing white top and sword.

Standing proudly at the flag, Boardman teased Tampa newcomer Kris St. Arnold, 28, who joined the group wearing a gypsy shirt lent to him by Boardman.

“I told him you must be wearing the regalia, cause if you don’t you’ll be walking the plank,” Boardman growled in pirate speak.

In an event known for its naughtiness, a group of girls near Bayshore Boulevard and Howard Avenue had some PG-rated tips for getting beads.

“Girls should have big smiles and flirt,” said Sam Major, 21, who came from Orlando. “For guys, good height.”

Despite a light breeze, sunshine caused many to shed layers of clothing.

“It’s hot,” said Lindsey Gelcich, 25, of Tampa. “I wish I did not have black on.”

Brett Coover and Mark-Anthony Phillips took a breather from break dancing to sit in the shade on Bayshore.

The guys said their tip for staying cool is to “drink a lot of cold beer.”

Beatriz Weiss won two VIP passes to the parade at the Hard Rock Casino, the festival’s title sponsor. She and her friend Cammi Pellerin were drinking from a jug marked with an X.

But the pirate theme seemed to stop there. Pellerin was dressed half as a pirate, half as a vampire.

She said she was representing her people.

At the convention center, Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio surrendered the key to the city after pirates disembarked from the ship Jose Gasparilla.

“I just ask one thing,” the mayor said. “Will you please spread you beads far and wide?”

That didn’t prove problematic.

Near the end of the day, Philip Carroll, captain of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla, reduced the essential elements of being a good captain and enjoying day-long festivities to two words.

“Great weather.”