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Beach Crowds Peaceful, but Currents Violent

March 28, 1988|BILL BILLITER | Times Staff Writer

Bright sun, dangerous current, orderly crowds.

That was the gist of police and lifeguard reports Sunday as thousands of spring-break vacationers packed Orange County strands from Seal Beach to San Clemente.

Unlike Saturday, when a riot nearly erupted on Huntington City Beach after a young woman allegedly exposed herself and drew a large crowd, the general scene Sunday was tranquil, officials reported. But lifeguards said a strong rip current along the beaches pulled scores of swimmers into potentially life-threatening situations.

"We had 66 rescues on Saturday, and we're having at least that many--maybe more--today," said Lt. Steve Davidson of the Huntington Beach city lifeguards.

40 or 50 Rescues

Added Eric Bauer, a marine safety officer at Newport Beach: "We've had about 40 or 50 rescues today. There's a rip current, and it's caused a lot of problems in the west Newport area. We've been very busy making rescues. I'd say we've had about 90,000 people (at Newport beaches Sunday), and the crowd has been orderly."

Huntington Beach officials also reported an orderly crowd of about 50,000 on the city's strip of beach Sunday. Officials said there was no recurrence of the volatile situation that triggered fears of a riot Saturday afternoon.

About 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Huntington Beach police said, a potentially dangerous crowd formed on the city beach on the south side of the city's pier, behind Maxwell's Restaurant. Police said officers responding to a disturbance call found a young woman who was exposing herself.

As officers took the woman into custody, a crowd of about 500 people surrounded the scene, police said. Officers said one man began chanting "Riot!" The crowd, however, dispersed after the woman and the chanting man were arrested and taken away, police said.

The woman, identified as Linda De Leon, 21, of Bellflower, was arrested on suspicion of public drunkenness and assault on a police officer. The man, Gregory Hamilton, 26, of Long Beach, was arrested on suspicion of inciting a riot and refusing to disperse, officers said. Both were booked into the Huntington Beach City Jail.

On Aug. 31, 1986, over the Labor Day weekend, a major riot broke out on Huntington City Beach, in virtually the same area as the tense scene Saturday. In the 1986 disturbance, five police vehicles were burned and a lifeguard building was broken into and vandalized. That riot erupted after two men tried to pull a young woman's bathing suit off, witnesses said. A crowd formed quickly, and people in the crowd began throwing rocks and bottles at police, who were trying to rescue the young women.

Similarly, in 1983, also at the Huntington Beach pier area, a smaller mob formed when a man tried to take a bikini off a young woman.

Police in all of Orange County's beach cities have been vigilant in recent days because of the hordes of young people on Easter break from school. But the Huntington Beach episode Saturday has been the only crowd problem so far, police and lifeguards in the beach cities reported.

But swimmers did get into trouble with unexpected drops in the ocean floor, as well as the rip current, lifeguards said.

Holes in Ocean Floor

"The winter storms left a lot of deep holes in the ocean floor," said Huntington Beach's Davidson. He said that some swimmers, thinking they could wade out into gradually deepening waters, instead found themselves in water over their heads.

Sunday's warm weather added to the siren song of the county's beaches. According to the National Weather Service, inland temperatures were in the 80s. Beaches were up to 10 degrees cooler.

"Our high temperature was 77 degrees," said lifeguard-supervisor Richard Chew in San Clemente. "We had a nice, Sunday-type of crowd of about 19,000."

Chew said lifeguards there made about 18 rescues during the day.

In Seal Beach, lifeguard Mark Lees reported an orderly crowd of about 12,000 people. He said the rip current necessitated about five rescues. At nearby Bolsa Chica State Beach, lifeguards estimated attendance at 8,000 and said there were no major problems during the day.

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