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Sandbar music, notable visits on Memorial Day

May 30, 2024
By Garland Pollard

It was an exceptionally busy weekend on Gasparilla Island and in Placida over the Memorial Day weekend.

“We did patrols of the beach, regular marked vehicle patrol, foot patrols and golf cart,” said Lt. Mike Sawicki of the Lee County Sheriff’s Office. 

On island in Lee County, according to Sawicki, there were four traffic citations, 16 traffic warnings, 36 parking warnings, 24 parking citations, six boating warnings and two felony arrests with underage alcohol.

Lee County had a drone in air to monitor the northern end of the county, which provided pictures for social media, including an aerial of boat traffic. There is one Lee County Sheriff’s Department boat for Boca Grande, and a county marine unit at their disposal, as backup. 

“It was a busy weekend, and all of our deputies were highly active on patrol,” Sawicki said. 

One issue was the expectation of larger crowds on Saturday, due the Boca H2O music festival on the water in Gasparilla Sound.

Santiago Gomez, a Tampa Coast Guard public affairs manager, said that a Station Fort Myers Beach Coast Guard crew patrolled the event on one of its response boats throughout the day, but did not have to take any action during the event.

The Gasparilla Island Bridge Authority had no major incidents on the bridge over the weekend, except for trespassers and garbage, and slowdowns during the festival itself.

“We contracted with Charlotte County for an off-duty detail officer to patrol the causeway,” wrote Gasparilla Island Bridge Authority Executive Director Kathy Banson, in an email to the Beacon. 

The Bridge Authority had a nine percent increase in vehicles this year, above the 2023 holiday weekend. On Memorial Day weekend 2023, from Saturday to Monday, there were a total of 10,377 vehicles, as compared to 11,277 vehicles in 2024. As a casual observer, it might have appeared that on island, the busiest day was Sunday, as was 2023. However this year, there were 3,931 cars on Saturday, 3,805 on Sunday and 3,541 on Monday. During 2023’s Memorial Day weekend, there were 3,575 vehicles on Saturday, 3,693 on Sunday and 3,109 on Monday. Most of the traffic came in the morning. On Saturday, 41 percent of the entire day’s traffic came over between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. On Sunday, 43 percent of the day’s traffic came over between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m.

Charlotte County Sheriff Bill Prummell and his son, a marine unit deputy, were out Saturday at the festival. For Charlotte County over the weekend, the marine units of the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office, Charlotte County Fire Department and Florida Fish and Wildlife had 46 calls for service, 28 citations, 103 warnings, five boating while intoxicated arrests and one other arrest. Charlotte’s traffic unit had 242 traffic stops, 211 citations, 114 warnings and seven other arrests. 

Charlotte estimated that there were 70,000 at the fest, a startling number. Prummell said in a release:

“With such a massive amount of people gathering at our beautiful beaches, it is critical to have law enforcement and emergency personnel in place.”

In the thousands of social media posts on Instagram and Facebook, there were no major issues, though one comment referred to “officers who showed up so fast after we saw a couple in a bad physical fight with each other!”

For overall beach traffic and parking, Sawicki said that Sunday was the big day, as they were busier on the water Saturday. In preparation, deputies put up parking cones along the south end of Gilchrist Avenue and Gulf Boulevard. Throughout the weekend, there were many verbal warnings for the crowds.

“We were on pretty much everything,” Sawicki said.