Peace, love and amnesty boxes featured at 2017 Okeechobee Music Festival

OKEECHOBEE — It was a tale of two Okeechobee Music Fests: First, there was great music and a lot of young people having fun. Next: 17 festival-goers were arrested and jailed on felony drug charges.

Still, that number of arrests pales in comparison to the 2016 event where over 60 people were arrested. Of those arrests, more than 40 cases were eventually dropped by the state.

It is also just a tiny fraction — less than .05 percent — of the 36,000 fans who attended the sold-out 2017 OMF.

Two reasons why the cases made by law enforcement this year will stick is because revelers were actually given chances to either turn around and leave, or drop their drugs into sealed garbage cans known as amnesty boxes with no questions asked.

Just how much was left in those garbage cans is still being calculated.

“I’ll have more information later in the week regarding the amnesty boxes, drugs seized, amounts etc.,” stated Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office (OCSO) public information officer Michele Bell in an email sent out Monday, March 6.

Assistant state attorney Ashley Albright said another reason why his office will have better cases to prosecute this year is that law enforcement did not stop or seize any vehicles for searches by K-9s.

“They (law enforcement) simply walked their dogs around the cars while they were waiting to get into the festival. We didn’t stop them,” explained the prosecutor, adding if the K-9s alerted to a vehicle then it was searched.

He went on to say the sheriff’s office “used a great deal of discretion” in the number of arrests made. Part of that discretion was used by deputies when they spoke with young people who were wanting to enter the festival.

“If they said they had drugs on them and showed law enforcement where the drugs were, the drugs were confiscated and they could go into the festival. But, if they lied about it or had a large amount they were arrested,” said Mr. Albright.

Nine people were arrested on drug charges during the opening 24 hours of this year’s festival and another eight were taken to the Okeechobee County Jail in the remaining three days.

• Dylan Wyatt Delgado, 23, Fort Lauderdale. He was charged with the felonies of trafficking in MDMA and trafficking in cocaine. His bond was set at $60,000.

• Wilson Hernandez, 38, Miami. He was arrested on felony charges of possession of marijuana over 20 grams and possession of a controlled substance (methamphetamine). He was also arrested on a misdemeanor charge of possession of drug paraphernalia. His bond was set at $6,000.

• Clayton Craig Hillyard, 24, Johns Creek, Ga. He was arrested on felony charges of possession of a controlled substance (cocaine) and possession of a controlled substance (methamphetamine). His bond was set at $40,000.

• Steven Michael Hoffman, 21, Gainesville. He was arrested on felony charges of possession of a controlled substance (MDMA), possession of a controlled substance (LSD) and possession of a controlled substance (cocaine). He was also arrested on a misdemeanor charge of possession of marijuana under 20 grams. His bond was set at $16,000.]

• Kevin Kovacs, 27, Brunswick, Ohio. He was arrested on felony charges of possession of a controlled substance (cocaine) and possession of marijuana resin. His bond was set at $7,000.

• Alyssa Renee Sanchez, 23, Bradenton. She was arrested on felony charges of possession of a controlled substance (cocaine) and a misdemeanor charge of possession of drug paraphernalia. Her bond was set at $6,000.

• Thomas James Sullivan, 51, Indian Rocks Beach. He was arrested on felony charges of possession of marijuana over 20 grams and possession of a controlled substance (anabolic steroids). He was also arrested on a misdemeanor charge of possession of drug paraphernalia. His bond was set at $6,000.

• Zachary Zegers, 24, East Kaley Ave., Orlando. He was arrested on felony charges of possession of marijuana with intent to sell, and a misdemeanor charge of possession of drug paraphernalia. His bond was set at $6,000.

Mr. Albright said despite law enforcement’s best efforts, when nearly 40,000 people are entering an area not everyone will be checked.

When asked if he was taken aback at some of the amounts of drugs seized, the prosecutor said: “I can’t say I was surprised. But, I will say, I saw more drugs this weekend than I’ve seen in a long time.”

Eric Kopp is a staff writer for the Okeechobee News

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