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Date of Issue: July 12, 2007

Light shows draw crowds to Island

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Boom town
Fireworks go off over the BeachHouse Restaurant July 3, ushering in the holiday on the Island. Thousands of people assembled for the show in Bradenton Beach. Islander Photos: Lisa Neff

By the fireworks bursting in air, Islanders celebrated America’s birthday twice last week.

A fireworks spectacular took place July 3 in Bradenton Beach and then another display took place July 4 in Anna Maria. Rain threatened both nights, but the weather remained clear.

The Chiles Group, owner and operator of the BeachHouse Restaurant in Bradenton Beach and the Sandbar Restaurant in Anna Maria, sponsored the shows. Bell’s Fireworks Display Co. from Tampa shot the shells into the sky.

On July 3, on the beach near the BeachHouse, Bill and Melinda Shuttleworth and their three children sat on a blanket waiting for the show. They had arrived mid-day, hoping to beat the traffic and enjoy the beach.

“We had an advantage because we both teach,” Melinda Shuttleworth said. “So we had the day off. The hump-day holiday doesn’t give too many people a lot of time off.”

Ray and Tina Negron made right for the beach as soon as their work wrapped up on July 3.

“I think July 4 must be my favorite holiday,” Tina Negron of Bradenton said. “I just love everything about it. The fireworks. The barbecues. The parades.”

Nearby, the MacDuff clan dined on fried chicken and chips as they counted the minutes to dusk.

“The louder the better,” Jonathan MacDuff, 7, said, anticipating the show.

As the sun set, a line of boats could be seen anchored about 200 yards off the shoreline in the Gulf, bright blue lights against a dark blue sky.

The fireworks display began at about 9:20 p.m., the first burst of a shell celebrated with blasts from airhorns, car horns, bells, applause, “oohs,” “ahhs” and “beautifuls.”

Vehicles moved at a crawling pace down Gulf Drive - it would take more than an hour for a trolley to travel from the intersection of Gulf Drive and Cortez Road to its turnaround at Coquina Beach.

Residents along Gulf Drive watched from convenient and scenic vantage points - balconies, driveways, even rooftops.

Police were on hand in Bradenton Beach to watch over the crowd on the beach and along the drive, where a number of personal fireworks shows took place, some of them legal and some with illegal bottle rockets and firecrackers.

Manatee County Emergency Medical Service technicians treated a 6-year-old girl for a first-degree burn after the fireworks show. It was not clear whether it was caused by a hot ember from the BeachHouse display or from a firework set off by someone in the crowd.

The incident, said detective Sgt. Lenard Diaz of the Bradenton Beach Police Department, is not under investigation.

Diaz said officers patrolling for the July 4 holiday did not make any fireworks-related arrests but rather issued warnings.

Police also moved through the crowds in Anna Maria July 4, mostly in an attempt to control the use of illegal fireworks on the beach and at beachfront residences.

Occasionally the celebration of early America’s independence escalated to small bouts of verbal civil war - with bottle rocket lovers on one side and the non-plussed on the other.

“They are illegal and they shouldn’t be out here with them,” Marsha Artigonne of Baltimore said of the personal fireworks people shot off on the beach.

“You’d think people could relax and have fun one night a year,” said Tiffani Brown of Bradenton. “Like these people complaining never broke a law? They didn’t go over the speed limit getting to the Island? They didn’t park wherever they could find a space?”

But one man was burned when an M-80 firecracker went off. Thomas M. Pechous, 43, of Groveland, was sitting on the beach near Magnolia Avenue when he felt something land on his right hand, according to a news release from the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office.

The firecracker went off as Pechous jerked his hand away, burning the skin on his right thumb and two fingers. EMS aides took Thomas to Blake Medical Center, where he was treated, while sheriff’s deputies searched for suspects in the crowd.

MCSO classified the incident as an aggravated battery, according to Lt. Barry Overstreet.

“It’s too crowded for people to be shooting fireworks like this,” said Brown. “I don’t care if you’re a kid with a brick of firecrackers or a rich resident with a truckload of fireworks. I don’t see why people don’t just come for the Sandbar show. It’s wonderful.”

The fireworks at the Sandbar began after 9 p.m., with all-American music amplified from the restaurant to illustrate the display.

“The grand finale was just wonderful,” Tristan Metcalf of Sarasota said as he packed up his beach gear and trash and prepared to head home. “What a hump day. It’s going to be hard to go back to work tomorrow.”