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Bathing suits, booming music and bumper-to-bumper traffic.

Orange Crush Festival, the popular event billed as a beach bash for HBCU students across the South, returned to Tybee Island in full force after its relocation to Jacksonville Beach, Florida, two years ago. In its absence, the tradition of the festival that started in 1988 and tales about previous Orange Crushes grew, drawing unprecedented numbers to the barrier island.

A large crowd of people enjoy the Tybee beach at sunset during Orange Crush on Saturday.

More:Is the Orange Crush Festival returning to Tybee Island this year?

According to the City of Tybee, approximately 11,555 cars and 40 to 50 thousand people came onto the barrier island Saturday.

From D.C. to Florida, the blaring sun followed students and HBCU alums as they roamed the streets, grabbed drinks and food from local bars, took pictures with pythons snaked around their shoulders, sang from the balconies of their vacation rentals and outside of their car windows and flocked to the pier where good intentions and good fun were the focus of the day.

For many who decided to attend Orange Crush, it was their first time attending what flyers hailed “the biggest HBCU beach bash to hit the East Coast.”

Shielding themselves from the sun and the heat under the Tybee Pavillion, Georgia Southern University students and first-time attendees Yakima Morrison and Terriana Pruick said they were most excited to hang out with friends and see students from other HBCUs come together.

Alicia Lawrence and her friends pose for a photo while hanging out on the Tybee Island Peir during Orange Crush on Saturday, April 22.

“I think it’s a good thing because you get people from all over coming to Orange Crush and Tybee Island. It’s good to see everybody,” Pruick said.

However, the large gathering has drawn somewhat of an unfavorable reputation, in part to it being Tybee’s largest unpermitted event. The event has operated without a permit since 1991 when Savannah State University severed ties with the festival after witnessing a dozen arrests, a stabbing and a drowning.

More:Tybee tries to crush Orange Crush by hiding behind permitting ordinance. That won’t work

The notorious nature of the weekend-long event and the past shooting incidents were not unbeknownst to attendees. But for people like high school graduate Jacoby Cummings, the focus was promoting the event in the best light.

A group of guys hanging out on the boardwalk after being on Tybee Island beach for Orange Crush on Saturday April 22.

As Cummings strolled down the 15 1/2 street pier, he gestured widely to the hundreds of people who were dancing, mingling and playing games on the beach. His cameraman, who followed him around as they filmed a Youtube vlog, captured his smile as he said, “This is the Orange Crush experience.”

“You see how everyone’s showing the good vibes? Everybody thought it was going to be bad out here, but you see how positive it is? Everybody’s in a safe place.”

Truth Jackson shared the same sentiment. As he passed out bottles of water and lemonade to passersby from his drink stand Double Love Lemonade, he felt the love of seeing Black students come together on a beach that used to be whites-only until Savannah civil rights activists staged wade-ins to desegregate the beach in 1964.

People take a break from partying to watch others from the Tybee Island Pier during Orange Crush on Saturday.

“It means so much for these kids to come together and see each other and have a good time at the beach. No violence, no problem,” Jackson said. “It’s a privilege that our ancestors fought for for this many of us to be here, and it should continue as long as we’re here.”

Good intentions take a turn

However, those good intentions soon battled with the scale of the event. As more and more people made their way to Tybee, the strain on resources grew apparent. “No trespassing” and “No parking signs” were blocked by cars parked on sidewalks and lawns. Around mid-afternoon, traffic halted to a standstill and cars stretched from Tybrisa Street down Islands Expressway and almost the entire length of Highway 80.

The high volume of people caused traffic accidents, road rage, crowding, and complaints around drug and alcohol abuse, noise, illegal parking and litter, according to a press release from the City of Tybee.

Party-goers hang out in the street during stand-still traffic caused by Orange Crush on Saturday.

Chuck Kearns, the CEO of Chatham Emergency Services, said there were 10 car accidents leading out to Tybee between noon and 10 p.m. Saturday, one in which seven were injured and a passenger was ejected from their car on Suncrest Boulevard and Highway 80 East.

“I can only equate it to the kind of traffic jams when I was in Florida and they were evacuating for hurricanes. Our crews were run ragged nonstop all day.”

As one hour turned into three, restlessness and what Kearns called “chaos” erupted. Emergency vehicles struggled through the traffic jams to get to emergency calls. Cars that were caught in the gridlock drove in the wrong lanes and created a one-way street of parked cars that prohibited people from entering the neighborhoods, and people began to dance in between cars and on the roofs of their cars.

People dancing in the street and on cars as the sun goes down on Tybee Islands Orange Crush party on Saturday, April 22.

Albany State University student Chris Clark said he and his friends decided to turn around and go home after being stuck in traffic from 5 p.m. to around 8:30 p.m.

“There was no point.”

The restlessness soon turned into road rage. Adam Bauer, 38, was arrested by Chatham County Police in connection to a shooting that happened on Highway 80 near Fort Pulaski around 7:20 p.m. on Saturday. One person suffered a non-life-threatening gunshot wound and was transported to a local hospital, and Bauer is being held at the Chatham County Detention Center after being charged with six counts of aggravated assault, one for each of the six victims who were in the vehicle that was fired upon.

Eyewitness reports and social media videos also showed the crowd on the beach running after someone allegedly flashed a gun. There were also reports of gunshots in the alley behind Wet Willies on Tybrisa Street.

People leave the beach during Orange Crush on Tybee Island on April 22.

Before Sunday morning service, Rev. Jerry Ragan, pastor at Saint Michael’s Catholic Church, discovered that the prayer angel in the church’s memorial garden, located just steps off the Butler sidewalk had been destroyed, the foot of the monument the only thing still intact.

“I think everybody tried to do their best yesterday. It’s that five percent. Most of the kids were respectful. They said, ‘Pastor, pray for us.’ One guy said, ‘We made it,’ meaning this is a rite of passage for them.”

The prayer angel at Saint Michael

The City of Tybee acknowledged that the event was a strain on the local community and a challenge for the city to manage. To maintain public safety, the city coordinated with outside agencies including the Tybee Island Police Department, Tybee Island Fire Rescue, Department of Public Works and Code Enforcement, Chatham County Police, Georgia State Patrol, Chatham Emergency Services and the Savannah Fire Department.

During the event, the City of Tybee Island was covered by 40 sworn law enforcement officers, eight code enforcement officers, 23 public works employees, 13 fire-rescue personnel and seven parking enforcement employees.

In a Facebook post Saturday night, State Rep. Jesse Petrea said that Gov. Brian Kemp also personally ordered additional Georgia State Patrol troopers to Highway 80 to ensure traffic laws were obeyed. According to Petrea, GSP was not asked to assist Tybee in the event.

In anticipation of the high levels of traffic, some businesses such as Zunzibar on US-80 decided to shutter its doors for the day.

“We’ve decided to make an adjustment to our weekend plans based on the anticipated increase in bridge traffic, predicted by Tybee Island City Officials. We will be closed this Saturday, 4/22, to avoid transportation issues for our staff as they come and go from the island,” the restaurant posted on Instagram. “We apologize for the inconvenience, but as always, we want to look out for our staff.”

Businesses such as Boardwalk Ice Cream, Fannies on the Beach, and Windrose Bar and Grill on Tybrisa Street and The Sand Bar on Butler Avenue decided to stay open in the center of all the action.

People spending time with their friends at the edge of the water during Orange Crush on Tybee Island, Saturday, April 22

“We don’t ever close unless there’s a hurricane,” said Jennifer Knox, owner of The Sand Bar, as she checked IDs at the door. “This is The Sand Bar’s ninth year hosting Orange Crush, and we’ve never had any major issues.”

Her main wish was for everyone to have a good time, be safe and follow the rules on the island.

Chatham County Police Department Chief Jeff Hadley manned Windrose Bar and Grill, his wife’s restaurant, Sunday morning. It was a calmer scene than Saturday which had the restaurant closing its doors four hours early after they sold out of all of their food by 6 p.m. But Hadley said other than a tired staff — all of whom lived on the island, bypassing the issue of traffic — and an empty kitchen, things went smoothly.

More:‘Orange Crush’ event on Tybee Island this weekend unaffiliated with Orange Crush Festival

Compared to previous Orange Crush weekends, Hadley said there were definitely more people. And with online misinformation regarding the planning of the event, it remains a moving target when it comes to organization, one he doesn’t think more law enforcement would have changed.

“As we all know, you’ve got 99.9% of the people out here to have a great time, respectful and well-behaved. But if you have 20,000 people and 1% are acting a fool, that’s 200 people. Things are bound to happen. I thought Tybee PD did really well. I know they tried to not police the event, but I thought that the officers were respectful.”

As the events of the day continued into the night, social media rumors popped up on Twitter claiming incidents such as a fire on the pier — which turned out to just be an orange smoke bomb — mandatory lockdowns and traffic fatalities. However, Tybee Mayor Shirley Sessions said none of these rumors were true.

After people left the beach they found other places, such as Sandcastle Inn and Hotel Tybee

Sessions acknowledged the adverse impacts this event has on Tybee Island and its residents in a press release. “This year’s event was admittedly too large and chaotic,” Sessions said. “But at the end of the day, Tybee Island is fortunate that no lives were lost and no property destroyed.”

In a text message, Sessions revealed the City would be having an after-action review and plan after this weekend’s events and will be enlisting the help of the state and county for backup.

“Because Tybee Island is a public beach, we are limited in what we can do to control this event. However, going forward, we will work on better solutions.”

Laura Nwogu is the quality of life reporter for Savannah Morning News. Contact her at Twitter: @lauranwogu_

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  • :
  • : 01/21/2023
  • : 4.96 (886 vote)
  • : Orange Crush, the unofficial beach bash for HBCU students, is back on Tybee Island. The city is expecting thousands of visitors for the …

Tybee Island was not prepared for Orange Crush crowd

  • :
  • : 11/24/2022
  • : 4.71 (562 vote)
  • : TYBEE ISLAND, Ga. (WSAV) – In the three weeks it had to prepare for Orange Crush, safety leaders on Tybee Island estimated a crowd similar …

Orange Crush beach fest fizzles in Daytona, but Jacksonville event still on, organizers say

  • :
  • : 11/10/2022
  • : 4.23 (570 vote)
  • : Orange Crush had been celebrated on the Tybee Island beach near Savannah for several years, but organizers said in 2021 that they were relocating to …
  • : “A lot of people and the group had a good time, but there was nothing organized about it,” Jacksonville Beach Mayor Christine Hoffman said of the “Beach Day” event. “… To call this a festival is a misnomer. To say there’s 20,000 people here for …

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