Traffic volume on U.S. 1 and the navigable waters were noticeably high, but major incidents remained low in what was a busy Fourth of July weekend in the Upper Keys.
Vehicles packed the southbound lanes as visitors made it to their hotels, rentals and campgrounds late last week. On the water, boats took to Islamorada sandbars and Alligator Lighthouse through the weekend with weather conditions favorable during the day — uncertainty and concern surrounding Tropical Storm Elsa didn’t stop the crowds from coming down.
Waters on the bayside saw scores of boats as the sun set, to watch fireworks displays off Founders Park in Islamorada and Rowell’s Park in Key Largo.
Florida Fish & Wildlife Officer Bobby Dube said the water was extremely busy, but no major boating accidents were seen. A few boating incidents with no injuries were reported, as well as a handful of boating under the influence arrests.
“For the most part, it was manageable,” Dube said. “There were no big fights or melees at the sandbar.”
Dube said numbers show the number of registered vessels in Florida continue to increase, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, the Florida HSMV reported nearly 26,000 registered vessels deemed for pleasure in Monroe County. Data shows more than 900,000 registered boats in the state of Florida.
“Everyone is out there with paddleboards, wave runners, kayaks and boats,” he said. “They’re out there on the water and the fresh air.
“I went on the boat on Saturday (July 3) to Alligator Reef Light,” he continued “In my 32 years, I’ve never seen that many boats there in all my days.”
FWC investigators made a lobster arrest on July 4 after a Miami man was spotted throwing a spiny lobster head in the bayside waters near Robbie’s Marina. Investigators Chris Mattson and Billy Thompson were in plain clothes as they patrolled in an unmarked vessel. Around noon, they spotted the man, identified later as Armando Espinosa, putting on a dive mask as another individual brought him a spear.
After roughly 45 minutes of surveillance, the investigators saw Espinosa throw a spiny tail lobster head. Mattson and Thompson approached Espinosa from land and found an undersized, wrung spiny lobster tail in his pocket. Espinosa was charged with spearfishing in the Keys, catching spiny lobster out of season, possession of an undersized spiny lobster tail, no measuring device, possessing a wrung lobster tail and failure to have a fishing license or a lobster stamp. He was taken without incident to the Plantation Key Jail.
On the road, a few accidents were reported in the Upper Keys over the holiday weekend. Traffic was slowed for a time on July 2 following a crash near MM 88. Another crash at MM 98 slowed vehicles.
A portion of U.S. 1 north in Key Largo was closed on July 4 as floats and vehicles decorated in red, white and blue paraded from Anthony’s at MM 98.2 to Laguna Drive. Using orange cones, a southbound lane was utilized for northbound traffic for a period of time.
With a 10 a.m. kickoff, the procession ended around 11 a.m. Traffic was flowing not long after that.
Traffic was congested through Islamorada, as seen on other major holidays and busy weekends, but there were no major crashes witnessed, said Capt. Derek Paul.
“Traffic was Islamorada traffic,” he said. “But other than that it was uneventful.”
Paul, too, noted the large number of boats not only on the sandbar, but also White Marlin Beach where a new swim zone was enacted in late May.
“There were a lot of boats and a lot of people, but it was kind of like Memorial Day weekend. It was very relaxed, considering,” he said.
A Homestead couple was arrested on the morning of July 4 after they reportedly attacked two deputies inside Hog Heaven Sports Bar & Grill. It all began around 1 a.m. as two deputies went to break up a fight. Police say one of the men involved in the fight, Floyd Leach, grabbed a male deputy from behind and placed him in a choke hold, then began hitting him in the face. The deputy took Leach to the ground.
As the two deputies placed Leach in handcuffs, Rebecca Leach reportedly kicked a female deputy in the head and the other deputy in the hand. Rebecca Leach was then placed under arrest and taken to jail.
Calls and complaints surrounding fireworks in residential neighborhoods flowed in through the weekend. It’s one problem 911 communicators deal with every holiday weekend, as non-emergency fireworks calls inundate lines and affect response times on more serious calls. What further complicated matters was a state bill signed last year that made it legal for Floridians to set off real fireworks on the Fourth of July, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.