Pickerington officials plan to change the date of the city’s Independence Day fireworks show in 2019, with hopes of making the event safer and more family friendly.
Mayor Lee Gray said Oct. 4 that city officials have agreed with an administrative recommendation to move the community's July Fourth fireworks display to July 3, aligning it with Columbus' Red, White & Boom! and similar celebrations held in Reynoldsburg and Whitehall.
Gray said city officials and those from Violet Township have agreed that although the fireworks will be moved to July 3, the community will continue its tradition of a parade July 4.
The parade is likely to be followed by a "small" event, possibly to include a concert and lunch offerings, in Victory Park during daytime hours.
The change doesn't require approval from Pickerington City Council, but Council Safety Committee Chairman Tony Barletta said no one on the committee opposed the recommendation at its Oct. 3 meeting.
The move comes after incidents the past two years in Victory Park during the community's celebration, which traditionally has featured a parade the morning of July Fourth, followed by entertainment at the park and the community's fireworks display at dusk.
In 2017, panicked attendees ran to exit Victory Park during the celebration after several teens reportedly yelled gunshots had been fired. There were no shots fired.
This year, a fight between teens in the park's shelter house resulted in a bystander suffering a broken leg after the teens fell on him.
Police were able to transport the 42-year-old victim to a nearby Violet Township fire station for treatment but not before a crowd of approximately 75 people reportedly became hostile with roughly 10 officers who had responded to the scene to disperse the crowd and attend to the injured man.
That incident was captured on video and published on various social-media sites.
After this year's Independence Day celebration, Pickerington police Chief Mike Taylor stated in his post-event debriefing report "nearly a dozen" potential fights were broken up by police, and the department received "numerous" complaints of marijuana use in the park.
The report stated all of the department's officers have been enlisted to provide security during the event or for patrols of the city’s streets and, "... Even with the requirement that all officers work this day, our agency is still unable to adequately staff this event."
In each of this year's incidents, people living outside Pickerington and Violet Township were identified as perpetrators, police officials said. Taylor said between 7,000 and 8,000 people attended the parade and fireworks.
Gray said the 2019 plan to hold the fireworks July 3 is an attempt to reduce crowds and outsiders who might seek to cause trouble in the park.
"Unfortunately, we have to change something to put us in a position of success and, hopefully, to provide a higher level of security and to make people feel safe," Gray said.