UTAH COUNTY, Utah, Nov. 2, 2020 (Gephardt Daily) — Authorities in Utah County are considering charges against nine suspected organizers of an unauthorized mass gathering that drew thousands of partiers to the west side of Utah Lake on Halloween night.
The event, believed by investigators to be organized by promoters associated with Utah Tonight and Tribe Utah, openly violated the state and county’s public health orders requiring that masks be worn “at any public gathering, such as live events, movie theaters, sporting events, weddings, recreation, and entertainment. This mask requirement is for all counties, no matter what level of transmission risk a county is in.”
Sgt. Spencer Cannon, public information officer for the Utah County Sheriff’s Office, told Gephardt Daily the event Saturday night drew a crowd of 5,000 to 7,000 party-goers.
Video and photos of the gathering posted on social media show hard-partying teens and 20-somethings as they gyrate into the night. There is scant evidence of mask wearing and virtually no social distancing.
Cannon said the sheriff’s office learned of the mass party near Saratoga Springs after reports of traffic accidents plus a call for medical help for a woman who struck her head crowding surfing. The woman was knocked unconscious and an AirMed helicopter was put on standby until paramedics made their way through the crowd and determined the woman’s injuries were not life-threatening.
“It sounds like it was more like crowd tossing,” Cannon told Gephardt Daily.
Investigators soon realized the party — complete with high-tech concert lighting and live DJs — was an unauthorized mass gathering. With thousands in attendance, deputies confirmed organizers had not obtained the necessary permits to hold the party and there was no plan for parking, no security provisions, no first-aid facilities or plans for medical responses.
A complete lack of restroom facilities revealed evidence of what Cannon told one media outlet was “the disgusting nature of the obvious human need.”
“I think we’ve identified nine people who were the organizers, who were involved in setting the thing up,” Cannon told Bill Gephardt, owner of Gephardt Daily. “When you have a stage with lighting, and sound, it takes more than just a couple of hours of advanced notice to set that up.
“There was a group that organized it, and I know they’re trying to back themselves away from either one of the two groups connected to this — Utah Tonight and Tribe Utah … just saying it was a bunch of people who got together and decided to do this. And I don’t know that we buy that for a second,” Cannon said. “So, now we’re at the point where we going to look at it, submit the case, and let the prosecutors make any charging decisions.”
The prospect of the event was not a complete surprise to county health officials. On Oct. 1, the Utah Tonight group announced on Instagram an event called “The Protest on Halloween,” which claimed to be “Utah’s largest party of 2020.” The poster for the event boasted a “full concert production costume party.” The poster also added: “Gatherings are essential for public health. By attending, you assume all risks associated with COVID-19. Please stay home if you are feeling sick.” Organizers said the venue would be announced at a later date.
On Monday, Oct. 26, organizers announced on Instagram the event had been cancelled. “The Utah Tonight team has fought tirelessly to provide individuals with an evening of normalcy and enjoyment during this year of uncertainty,” the post said. “While there are thousands who have already committed to attend this event, we must acknowledge that even following every known guideline to combat COVID-19 would be insufficient for some.
“If the guidelines provided are truly meant to protect so our world can move on, then we must allow people and organizations the opportunity to create plans, organize, and gather together.”
The Halloween bash outside Saratoga Springs wasn’t the only mass gathering in Utah County on Saturday night.
In Lehi’s warehouse district police responded to a noise complaint and found an estimated crowd of 2,000 party-goers, indoors, in close quarters, with few, if any, wearing masks or social distancing.
Sgt. Bart Kirkham, of the Lehi Police Department, told Gephardt Daily no criminal charges have been filed and it’s unlikely they will be.
The event in Lehi had been previously promoted on social media as the “Frightmare Frenzy,” with ticket prices being offered at $15 a head. The ad indicated masks were required, but it appeared the rules were not enforced.
The Utah County Health Department issued the following a statement condemning the mass gatherings.
As we struggle in our local and state-wide communities to contain the COVID-19 virus and mitigate its impact on our communities, it is unfortunate that some would ignore public health and medical guidance and plan and participate in an event that would allow for the ready spread of the disease between individuals which can be taken back by individuals to our communities and infect others who are trying to follow public health and medical recommendations.
The organizers of the Halloween Protest are encouraging the direct opposite of public health and medical guidance. They claim they want to get life “back to normal”. Their actions and the actions they are encouraging will cause further increases in COVID-19 cases and push the time of “back to normal” that much further away.
The actions of the organizers and attendees are dangerous to themselves, our communities, our healthcare system, and our efforts to combat COVID-19.
We strongly encourage all who attended the event to monitor themselves for symptoms and get tested if symptoms present.
We are grateful for the vast majority of our citizens who are striving to protect themselves and their fellow citizens by adhering to health guidance.
We continue to urge all citizens to stay home when ill, practice social/physical distancing, practice good personal hygiene, wear masks/face coverings in public settings where physical distancing is difficult, and to avoid large gatherings. Please seek out testing, as directed.”
Sgt. Cannon said he expects sheriff’s deputies to finish their reports and forward the information to the Utah County District Attorney’s Office for possible charges within the next couple of days.