Mom Still Pushing For State Fair Safety Four Years After Son's Death
Four years ago, Andrew Joseph III was killed as he tried to cross Interstate 4. He was one of 100 young people ejected from the Florida State Fairgrounds after reports of "wilding." He was 14.
As in previous years, Deanna Hardy-Joseph, Andrew's mom, wants the fair and Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office to take her concerns more seriously.
The Sheriff's Office said they have, citing a 40 percent reduction in trespass warnings and arrests last year. This year, extra deputies are on hand, children have to be with an adult after 6 p.m, and a community-based action team is assisting in patrolling the fairgrounds.
"They gave us half of what we wanted, but some of the other things are still outstanding," said Hardy-Joseph. "We want to see so much more."
Anthony Hernandez, 22, who was at the fair, said he sees an improvement in the situation from when he went to the fair while he was in high school.
"Fights broke out normally at night. But it seems like it's way heavier, tighter on security now," Hernandez said. "And now kids have to be accompanied by adults, so I'm sure it's much better."
On Friday, Hardy-Joseph, along with over 50 other protesters, held a vigil and demonstration for Andrew. Protesters asked parents not to send their kids to the fair for Student Day until organizers make safety a top priority.
"We serve as a reminded that with lax policy and procedures, a death like Andrew Joseph III's can happen, and will happen again," she said. "I believe this is now my life's path, that every Student Day, I step on that ground and remind parents of the devastation, the life that was stolen from me."
Hardy-Joseph said the sheriff's office and the fair authority were responsible for Andrew, who she said was wrongfully arrested and ejected from the fair.
She is particularly upset that law enforcement didn't allow Andrew or the other kids who were kicked out to call their parents for a ride home before they were left by themselves in an area surrounded by busy roads.
Hardy-Joseph is suing the sheriff's office and the fair authority in federal court. Officials from both organizations declined to comment on this story, citing the litigation.
"It's been a challenging process to live without him here," she said. "Although people tell me he's with me that he's still with me in spirit, my body and soul longs for so much more."