The Walton County Sheriff's Office has been trying to send a strong message to spring breakers by proactively cracking down on underage drinking, but that hasn't stopped the party.
The beach in front of Whale's Tail was crowded with loud, sun-burnt college students Wednesday afternoon. Some breakers were oblivious to the officers, who were just about 50 feet away arresting young men and women, and some were defiant — snapping posed photos in front of the patrol trucks and hiding drinks in mugs and Starbucks cups. For a 360 degree view of the pile of people, click here.
"Nobody cares," said Ole Miss senior, Brian Tucker, of the police presence. "Everybody will just find a new place to drink."
But those avenues are closing as the Sheriff’s Office launches a full frontal assault on lawbreaking co-eds.
A lot of breakers The Sun spoke with were unaware of the party bust March 11 that sent 32 men and women to the Walton County jail for underage drinking, but even after hearing the news, they were determined that the party would go on.
"I'm not underage, but I guess it's kind of scary, because I'm drunk in public," said Danielle Colson from Texas. "Isn't public intoxication a big thing?"
Sheridan Barrow from the University of Texas at Arlington, said she had just heard about the Monday night bust. Barrow, 22, wasn't worried about getting busted, but said the stepped-up beach patrols were nerve racking, because many of her friends were all minors.
"I just took all the alcohol to hold when we're walking to the beach," she said. "I didn't want them to get in trouble for holding it."
For one group of Texas women, word of the spring break bust traveled by way of a friend who was at the infamous party. While the friend was not one of the 32 arrested, the young women agreed the no-tolerance policy is "kind of scary."
"It's spring break," one of them said. "If you're not wasted, you're doing it wrong — yolo."
James Blagia, a sophomore at University of Texas, did hear about the bust, but thinks the cops should be paying attention to more pressing matters.
"They should focus their attention on serial killers," he said.
As of Thursday morning, the total number of notice to appears and arrests in Walton County have been 384. And this is only the beginning of the spring break season.
Those caught drinking underage have the choice between a $250 fine or a notice to appear in court.
"That's kind of an excessive charge," commented Harrison Scofield from Texas A&M University.
On the beach, deputies walk through the crowds to keep a close eye on the party. If underage drinkers are found, they pull them out of the crowd to their parked trucks, where they pour the alcohol out of mugs in all shapes and colors and fill out paperwork.
Deputy Leo Cook said the Walton County Sheriff's office is doing everything they can to discourage underage drinking and to keep everyone safe.
“Sheriff Adkinson is keeping his promise from the Operation Dry Spring press conference he held last week with (Okaloosa County) Sheriff Ashley and (Bay County) Sheriff McKeithen,” a sheriff’s office release stated. At the press conference, Adkinson stated “We are going to be completely zero tolerant in dealing with this issue and completely proactive.”
Dragging a custom-made funnel down the beach, Casey Breland from Auburn University and Jordan Finkleburg of the United States Naval Academy hadn't heard the news of the crackdown.
"That sucks," said Finkleburg after hearing the details.
"I understand why they're doing it," Breland said. "When we were underage we would just pre-game, then go out. That way, you don't get in trouble."
At the very least, spring breakers provide a bit of entertainment.
Parked in beach chairs several feet away from the sardine-packed crowd, a group of family friends enjoy the show.
"My husband and I like to watch the kids," said Melissa LaChapelle, a flight attendant in town from Michigan. "But it's also sad, for me, as an adult to see that kids can't keep it in perspective."
Lawren Busby, on break from Mississippi State University, sympathizes with the law enforcement.
"I feel like they're working as hard as they can to keep up," she said.