South Beach scuffle leads to stampede, false reports of shots fired

MIAMI BEACH, FLA. (WSVN) - What started as an altercation on Ocean Drive spiraled into pandemonium, Saturday night, as panicked spring breakers ran from what they thought were shots fired.

Cellphone video captured dozens upon dozens of frightened revelers screaming and running for safety, just before 8 p.m.

“It was like a thousand people running, so you know it was chaos,” said a witness.

Security cameras at the Sherbrooke Hotel also recorded the stampeding crowd running down Ocean Drive. Some knocked over tables at nearby restaurants.

“It was horrible, because people were falling and jumping,” said the witness. “The restaurants were closing. It was horrible.”

City leaders said this incident is an example of what happens when there are too many people in a small space.

“My first thought was to go up into the hotels, like on one of the floors or something, ’cause I didn’t want to go outside,” said visitor Nadia Butterfield, “’cause they were flipping tables over and all that type of stuff.”

A major mess was left behind from the stampede.

“You can see the table and silverware and plates all scattered about the sidewalk. It’s absolute mayhem,” said Mitch Novick, whose hotel surveillance captured the scene.

According to Miami Beach Police, the fight broke out at Fifth Street and Ocean Drive. During the scuffle, someone threw a bottle up in the air, and when it came down, it led to rumors of shots fired, which caused major safety concerns.

The bottle struck a police officer in the arm. He was checked out and released. There were no other injuries reported.

Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber said they are looking into ways to control the large crowds, especially since he said nearly 400 schools had spring break at the same time.

“There are simply too many people here,” Gelber said. “Our streets were over capacity. Our law enforcement efforts and our assets were just over-stressed, so we’ve got to address that. And you address that a few ways. You reduce the number of people coming, you try to control where they’re going.”

The city estimated there were between 5,000 and 6,000 spring breakers on South Beach on Saturday.

The frenzy led police to shut down the eastbound lanes of the MacArthur Causeway.

Novick, who is also a co-owner of the Sherbrooke Hotel, said madness like this, has become the norm. “This was the third one in the last 48 hours. I’ve seen stampedes before,” he said. “What was problematic then grew into a cancer and spread.”

The city is now considering to shut down traffic along Ocean Drive during spring break to keep something like this from happening again.

After police investigated Saturday night’s scene, they found no signs of bullets flying, and South Beach went back to normal.

“Miami is a dope town. Everybody wants to come, so you have to make sure that people are safe,” said the witness.

However, business owners like Novick said enough is enough with what is the norm in South Beach.

He wants the city to crack down on the partying and change zoning in the area.

“Noise attracts noise, it attracts riff-raff, it attracts all of the bad behavior we’re seeing,” Novick said.

The city is also looking at changing parking on Ocean Drive and traffic patterns to keep spring break crowds under control.

Police will continue with enhanced staffing over the next two weeks.

“We’re fairly clear that we’re over the hump,” said Miami Beach Police Chief Dan Oates. “I think, for instance, this week the estimate is around 170 schools are off, where last week it was 400.”

Police said, despite Saturday’s incident, the spring breakers were relatively well-behaved. They had less than 70 arrests over the weekend. Officials said that is a small amount considering how big the crowd was.

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