Arrest made in Williston festival shootings
Published: Monday, April 29, 2013 at 5:43 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, April 30, 2013 at 7:45 a.m.
Authorities have arrested a 19-year-old man they say was involved in the shooting of five people who attended Saturday night’s Crab Festival, a gathering of about 10,000 people from around the southeast U.S. on County Road 318, east of Williston.
Devonte Ocasio was apprehended Monday morning in Marion County during a traffic stop and transported back to Levy County. Deputies arrested him on one count of attempted murder and a second count of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
According to the Levy County Sheriff’s Office, 36-year-old Barry Barney of Gainesville died as a result of his injuries while being airlifted to Shands at the University Florida.
Two other men and two women also were wounded, one with serious injuries. The Levy County Sheriff’s Office would not release their identities Monday afternoon, citing safety concerns.
“Our office believes this may have been motivated by some type of drug-related crimes, and we are not going to release the names of the victims for fear of retaliation,” said sheriff’s spokesman Lt. Scott Tummond.
While one person died and four others were wounded, Ocasio had not been charged with the murder or other shootings as of late Monday afternoon.
Investigators believe Ocasio fired a weapon that injured one person and displayed the same weapon to another, constituting aggravated assault.
Tummond said investigators are not ruling out the possibility of a second shooter.
“We have an extensive crime scene, potentially hundreds of witnesses and we don’t have all the answers yet,” said Tummond, who also noted that witnesses of the shooting have been tight-lipped.
“Lots of folks saw stuff but don’t want to come forward either because they are scared or don’t want to get involved,” he said.
The shootings occurred around 8 p.m. Saturday amid the huge crowd along the road also known as Northeast 40th Street.
Around 70 law enforcement and emergency medical personnel, including around 45 Levy County deputies and officers from other jurisdictions, were stationed at the event when the shooting occurred. Levy safety officials had pre-staged ambulances and a medical helicopter in the area for the festival.
After hearing the gunshots, deputies and emergency medical personnel went through the crowd on foot and in vehicles to find the victims. Ambulances had difficulty reaching the wounded through the dense crowd.
“We were, at the most, 50 yards away,” Levy County Sheriff Bobby McCallum said Sunday.
The festival originated around 20 years ago as a birthday party and crab boil for several residents of the Lincoln Heights community in east Williston, according to the Rev. Johnnie Jones III, of Fountain of Life Church.
“Eventually, it just got too big for the cul-de-sac and moved out to the main road,” Jones said.
Jones compared the festival to a tailgating party, with family friendly activities and cultural attractions.
“People from the outside perceive and have styled it as a kind of street festival. But, in all honesty, it’s more of a family festival,” Jones said.
The Levy County Sheriff’s Office described the festival as “unsanctioned and non-permitted” in a news release.
“Every year it grows and grows,” McCallum said, adding that this year’s crowd was the largest ever.
The event is advertised heavily through social media, but information on the event or its happenings is not widely publicized. Sheriff’s officials said that no organizations or specific individuals claim to be hosts for the event.
Anyone with information — especially video or photographs — of the event can call Tummond at 352-486-5111. For anonymous tips, call Crime Stoppers at 877-349-8477.