DAYTONA BEACH (CBSMiami) – Social distancing was tough to find in Daytona Beach over the weekend as massive crowds were spotted and six people were hurt in a shooting.
Police were caught by surprise after hundreds of people celebrated in the streets, blocked traffic and ignored social distancing restrictions imposed by the state to combat the coronavirus pandemic, authorities said Sunday.
Police helicopter video captured more than 200 people crowded onto a beachside street where men were throwing money from a car and blocking traffic. Images show the group scattering when officers arrived, but another large group then gathered around a different vehicle.
Shortly after, there was a shooting that sent half a dozen people to the hospital.
The event, called Orlando Invades Daytona was scheduled but then canceled by promoters at the request of the police department, Daytona Beach Police Chief Craig Capri said in a news release Sunday.
The event had already been heavily promoted on social media and large crowds still descended on the city bringing chaos in their wake. At least one suspect is in custody and an investigation is ongoing, police said.
“We got slammed, Disney’s closed, Universal’s closed, everything’s closed. So where did everybody come? On the first warm day with 50 percent opening, everybody came to the beach,” said Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood at a Sunday news conference.
Officials said they have been criticized for not making use of force against the crowds and declining to make arrests for social distancing violations.
“I know people were upset with the numbers of crowds there. I am a little pissed off, too, about a lot of this. We don’t take this lightly,” Chief Capri said. “We got the coronavirus still going around and people not practicing social distancing. But I am not the social distancing police. It’s not my job.”
Sheriff Chitwood told reporters he did not think breaking those rules could be realistically enforced with arrests.
“If someone out there wants to ask a stupid social distancing question, social distancing is not a crime. It’s an executive order issued by the governor that no prosecutor in the state of Florida has prosecuted anybody for that, and no judge is going to convict them,” he said.
Chitwood said the man who stood on the sunroof of the car was making a rap video. Authorities are combing through video footage in an attempt to try and identify him to arrest him.
“We are going to identify him and we are going to charge him. He was the linchpin of all this that happened,” Sheriff Chitwood said.
Coronavirus social distancing rules in the state and Volusia County state that people must be in groups of 10 or fewer. Beaches elsewhere also saw major Memorial Day weekend crowds that prompted law enforcement to turn away beachgoers.
Sheriff deputies also shut down access to most beaches in St. Petersburg and Clearwater by mid-day on Saturday saying they reached an “unprecedented level of closures,” and many were closing down on Sunday because they had reached capacity.
“Overall I was impressed at the way the officers and deputies and the beach patrol all worked together to have a calming influence on what could have been a really chaotic incident,” Sheriff Chitwood said during the news conference.
Pensacola Beach was calmer but still crowded as beachgoers planted their umbrellas 6 feet from each other to mingle, but not too closely.
Beaches in Broward county don’t open until Tuesday and are expected to open on June 1 in Miami-Dade.