Harrison County

Huge increase in spring break turnout snarls traffic, draws complaints

The highest turnout of spring breakers in recent years led to a “troublesome” weekend for traffic congestion and crowd control, Biloxi Police Chief John Miller said.

An estimated 60,000 revelers showed up for the Biloxi Black Beach Weekend — a record turnout — which brought some unexpected problems in addition to heavier traffic than usual, he said. Last year, police estimated 35,000 people came out for spring break and police made a handful of arrests.

“It was probably one of the more troublesome spring breaks we’ve had in quite a few years,” Miller said of this weekend.

“There were quite a few more people, quite a few more incidents and several criminal complaints. And while we were trying to keep traffic moving, people were trying to cross the road wherever they wanted, causing drivers to slam on brakes.”

Spring breakers for this annual event usually leave town by Sunday morning. By late Sunday afternoon, traffic was bumper-to-bumper from Edgewater Mall to the Ocean Club just west of Treasure Bay Casino Resort.

Hotels were filled up from state line to state line before the weekend’s events kicked off. Tens of thousands of spring breakers soaked up the sun by day in mild temperatures and enjoyed nightlife from one end of the city to the other.

“Most who were here behaved themselves, but we had some unexpected surprises,” Miller said.

“There’s always a small group that cause the problems.”

By Sunday afternoon, a group of spring breakers gathered in the Edgewater Mall parking lot and four or five of them assaulted a police officer and a security officer, police said.

A couple of shootings also were reported over the weekend — neither on the beach — and both are believed to be spring-break related, Miller said. In one shooting, two local people were wounded, police said, when two vehicles pulled next to each other about 10 p.m. Saturday in the 2700 block of Pass Road. The other shooting appeared to be an attempted robbery, he said.

Also, first-responders dealt with a train-car crash that did not injure anyone.

Party spread across the city

For most of the weekend, traffic moved at a snail’s pace along much of Beach Boulevard, also known as U.S. 90, in Biloxi and Gulfport. The gridlock spread to alternate routes, like Pass Road, commonly used by locals who want to avoid bumper-to-bumper traffic.

At one point, eastbound drivers on Pass Road, where traffic was stalled going east but flowing freely west, began driving east in one of the westbound lanes.

The hub of activity for the event typically is in west Biloxi, spreading out from the Mississippi Coast Coliseum and from Rodenberg Avenue to Edgewater Mall along the beachfront.

An after-party at Level Nightclub in east Biloxi on Saturday night added to vehicular and pedestrian traffic further east until the party wore down about 5 a.m. Sunday, Miller said.

Spring breakers came from across Mississippi and with heavy attendance from residents of Texas, Alabama, Georgia, Florida and Louisiana, he said.

Traffic also was congested in Gulfport, where police diverted motorists off U.S. 90 onto Cowan Road at times.

“I think we had a lot of people who had never been here before,” Miller said. “They branched out from west Biloxi to east Biloxi.”

Barricades were placed at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum to prevent pedestrians from walking in front of traffic. In other areas, groups of police stopped traffic in both directions to let groups of visitors cross the highway. More barricades may be used next year, Miller said.

He said arrest numbers would be available later.

Biloxi resident Patricia Avery said it took her four hours to get home on the beachfront from the Cowan Road intersection to her apartment complex near Edgewater Mall.

“I am devastated at how trashed the front of our complex is,” she said. “I am disgusted in the way the beach looks. The Coliseum is in complete disrepair and the streets— not only can you not drive on them, they are riddled with trash, empty food containers and bottles,” Avery said.

‘An economic impact’

Organizers and promoters of the event said they’re pleased with the turnout, and believe as many as 75,000 turned out.

“In my four years of organizing this event, I’ve never seen anything like the big crowd that showed up on Friday,” Maurice Bryant said. “When I saw that, with 2,400 at the kickoff party and who knows how many on the beach, I knew it would be big.”

Aside from the big-name entertainment, the Twerk Fest was the most popular event, he said.

“When I started this, I wanted to change the image, make it organized and get the word out,” Bryant said.

Loosely organized spring breaks in 2000 and 2001 drew unruly crowds that at times brought traffic to a halt.

“I just hope everybody enjoyed it and will spread the word for next year,” Bryant said. “With a crowd as large as we had, you can expect a few problems. But for any of our hiccups, we believe we can work with police and the Coliseum and the city to keep making improvements.”

Trash was a problem, but Bryant said the Harrison County Sand Beach Authority for the first time had crews out to help empty trash cans, and cleanup would be done Monday.

About 12,000 people packed the Coliseum for Saturday night’s concert, he said, adding it’s unusual for shows by hip-hop artists to pack a house in Biloxi. Migos — who currently have two singles near the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart — performed along with Jeezy, Yo Gotti, Meek Mill, Boosie Badazz, Lloyd and YFN Lucci.

“It had an economic impact, people had fun and I’m excited about that,” promoter Darrien Burns said.

“I asked everyone I saw if they were having a good time and if they had any complaints,” he said. “I even heard people talking about fishing charters.”

Burns said social media sites, including blackbeachweek.com, spread the word.

“We let people know what to expect, where to park, what they could and couldn’t do, and about restaurants,” Burns said. “We wanted to make it enjoyable and easy for tourists to find out about the area.”

Unlike previous years, crowds remained around the beach Sunday afternoon and at Level for a free cookout.

Robin Fitzgerald: 228-896-2307, @robincrimenews