Blimey! Safety concerns and crimes of Gasparilla

by Juliana Walter

Every year, the Tampa Bay area is packed for the Gasparilla Pirate Festival. Much of the student body at The University of Tampa participated in events with the rest of the city this past weekend.

The 4.5-mile long parade route on Bayshore Boulevard is commonly referred to as the third largest parade in the U.S. with around 300,000 attendees each year, according to the Tampa Bay Times. 

Since many students, along with parents, raise safety concerns during the festivities, Campus Safety sent out an email reminder about the day to keep students safe and informed.

UT’s Campus Safety wrote up a total of 13 reports taken between the hours of 7 a.m. on Friday, Jan. 25 and 7 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 26. These included drug and alcohol violations, failures to provide UT identification, medical incidents, and trespassing incidents in banned areas for both students and non-students.

 “It was an all hands-on deck detail,” said Samuel Ponce, assistant director of Campus Safety. “Campus Safety officers from all shifts were scheduled to work extra hours. We put up traffic barricades and set up limited access control posts to monitor pedestrian traffic.”

Campus Safety said they were mainly concerned with keeping students safe by monitoring non-UT affiliates on campus, as well as making sure there was limited traffic flow through UT.

One of the biggest safety incidents of the day was when multiple UT students were stuck in an elevator in Straz Hall around 10:30 a.m. on Gasparilla morning. Tampa Fire Rescue and Campus Safety were able to safely get the students out of the elevator after about 20 minutes.

“The resident assistants (RAs) had to make sure that students were safe throughout the whole morning,” said Nicole Campbell, a sophomore RA in Straz Hall. “Especially with incidents like [the elevator entrapment], we had to make sure everything is communicated with Campus Safety.”

Anne-Marie Giangrasso is the mother of Rebecca and Kim Giangrasso, who are both  sophomores at UT. She expressed her concern for safety around the event as well.

“I definitely was worried about everyone,” said Giangrasso. “I just hoped the students were safe and smart. It helps to know that Campus Safety has plans set up for events like this. Every parent is concerned for their students especially with hundreds of people in the downtown area.”

UT’s campus facilities resumed normal operation hours Sunday morning after Tampa Police Department (TPD) opened the streets and areas that were closed around the city.

TPD also had a strong presence in the city. Although the main parade and events around the Tampa Bay area went smoothly overall, TPD still reported 21 arrests involved in Gasparilla.

During the parade, boaters usually crowd the bay in order to watch the festivities from the water. TPD’s Marine Unit was responsible for monitoring the bay during Gasparilla.

Boating Under the Influence (BUI) accounted for 15 of the total arrests on Saturday. Last year, TPD reported only nine arrests for BUIs.

Around 6:45 p.m. along the parade route, a dog was shot and killed by a mounted Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office deputy. According to the Tampa Bay Times, the dog “ran towards a horse with the TPD mounted unit.”

A surveillance video released on Monday, Jan. 27 showed the dog run through the herd for less than a minute, jumping up and biting at the horses. Then, Deputy Crystal McClelland shot the dog once in the back. A spokesperson for HCSO defended the actions of Deputy McClelland in a FOX 13 interview.

“She knew that if she didn’t make a decision, multiple people could have ended up getting hurt,” Clark said. “This is not an easy decision that the deputy had to make. It’s something that she knew had to be done for everyone’s safety, but it’s something that again we don’t take lightly and it’s something that we all wish didn’t have to occur had that owner taken the correct steps to secure his dog.” 

However, in the FOX 13 article, witnesses, “wondered whether the deputy overreacted. They said the owner, who investigators said is a homeless man, was trying to catch his pet.” 

The incident is currently under investigation by HCSO.

Six arrests made by TPD included two separate felonies reported for grand theft and burglary. Others included misdemeanors for battery, improper display of firearms, and resistance of arrest.

Eric Durkin, public information officer with TPD, said, “Chief Dugan and the entire Tampa Police Department wish to thank all the first responder agencies who came to our city to help make Gasparilla 2020 a safer event for our community.”

Juliana Walter can be reached at

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