More bang than expected at Groveport fireworks


By Rick Palsgrove
Groveport Editor

Things got rowdy during the Fourth of July fireworks in Groveport.

According to the Groveport Police, “flash mobs” of youths, believed to be made up of teenagers and others in their early 20s – some wearing ski masks – caused disruptions and chaos at the event by tossing fireworks and other explosive devices and then running in all directions.

“It’s sad that a few certain individuals from other communities try to ruin it for everyone else,” said Mayor Lance Westcamp. “The Fourth of July in Groveport is a family day.”
Groveport Police Chief Casey Adams said the goals of such flash mobs are to create “disruption and confusion.”

The worst incident, according to Adams, was when individuals in a flash mob gathered in the municipal parking lot along Wirt Road and first tossed a small firework to the ground and then a more powerful exploding device.

“They dropped them and ran. The first firework made a ‘pop’ sound,” said Adams. “The second, which we believe to have been an improvised homemade device, exploded with a major ‘bang’ that set off a strong concussive blast vibration. One officer had ringing in their ears afterward. The worst thing is these devices exploded near the propane tanks of the food vendors.”

Angela Leist, who works at a downtown Groveport business, said she was afraid for the officers.

“A bomb went off,” Leist said. “It was very loud and very scary. We didn’t know what could happen.”

Adams added, that in another incident, one young woman was arrested after shooting off a Roman candle near the propane tanks.

“I hate to think what would have happened if they had set off those propane tanks,” said Adams.

Fortunately, he said no injuries were reported.

Another tactic used by the flash mobs, according to Adams, is when someone in the mob yells, “fight” or “gun” to get reactions or to frighten people.

“It’s like yelling ‘fire’ in a crowded theater,” said Adams. “It’s dangerous. We’re working on identifying individuals involved in the incidents and they will be charged with inducing panic.”

He said video from a camera trailer will be reviewed to identify suspects as part of the investigation.

Adams said police had intelligence information that these flash mobs had been seen at Columbus’ Red, White, and Boom on July 3 and that these mobs could appear in Groveport on July 4.

“We were as prepared as we could be,” said Adams, who said 24 officers were on duty with 13 in the most congested area near the municipal parking lot at Wirt Road and Cherry Street. “We had officers on bike patrol, on foot, and in cruisers. The presence of police did not phase or deter the flash mobs.”

He said that, locally, only Groveport and Lancaster hold fireworks on July 4 as most other area communities shoot them off on July 3. He said, because of that scheduling, Groveport draws a large crowd locally and from the surrounding area to its fireworks.

“Right now we’re the only show in town,” said Adams.

Resident Joellen Stebelton praised the Groveport Police for their efforts, especially at the end of the evening when an estimated 100 to 200 people were milling around Main and Front streets apparently waiting for rides home.

“Officers were patient with the crowd and acted professionally, even though some of the people seemed openly defiant. They dispersed the crowd without any incidents,” said Stebelton. “They did an outstanding job.”

Adams said the mayor, city administrator, police, and other city officials will look at what options can be pursued to avoid such problems at future Fourth of July events.

“When it comes to safety, everything is on the table for next year,” said Groveport City Councilman Ed Dildine.

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