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Bang-Up Fourth in O.C.

Thousands line Huntington's streets for the parade as others head for the beaches. Two possible drownings reported.

July 05, 2006|David Haldane | Times Staff Writer

The 102nd annual Fourth of July parade in Huntington Beach went off without a hitch Tuesday as an estimated 250,000 people lined the streets for one of Southern California's largest Independence Day celebrations.

"This was one of the best," city spokeswoman Connie Young said of the 2 1/2 -hour, 4-mile extravaganza that featured 314 marching groups with comedian Marty Ingels and actress Shirley Jones as husband-and-wife grand marshals. "It's been just a terrific day."

That seemed to sum up the mood across Orange County as revelers observed a warm Fourth with barbecues, picnics, beach excursions and fireworks displays. Some law enforcement officials attributed the relative calm to the fact that Independence Day fell on a Tuesday.

"They've already been celebrating for four days," said Lt. Rob Morton, a police spokesman in Newport Beach, which, like Huntington Beach, has a history of disruptive Fourths.

Lt. Craig Junginger of the Huntington Beach Police Department had another explanation: "Most people have to go to work tomorrow."

That didn't prevent about 45,000 of them from spending much of the day at the city's beach.

"Ordinarily we have about two-thirds as many on a weekend," Marine Safety Lt. Mike Baumgartner said. "It's really nice weather, the water has warmed up to 75 degrees -- much better than two weeks ago when it was 55 -- and we had a lot of people enjoying the warm water and air. It was a beautiful day."

But low surf combined with a small rip current to keep the lifeguards busy, and two possible drownings were reported.

"We've had lots of rescues," Baumgartner said. "People are getting in the water and staying in the water more than they normally would, and some are getting pulled into areas where they can't stand. We've had lots of visitors unfamiliar with the currents."

About 1 a.m. Tuesday, rescuers using sonar located the body of a man who had fallen out of a kayak while riding with his father in Newport Dunes Aquatic Park. He was identified as Richard Diffee, 30, of Costa Mesa.

And about 6 a.m., the body of an unidentified man in his 60s clad only in his underwear washed ashore near Pacific Coast Highway and Seapoint Avenue in Huntington Beach.

Newport Beach law enforcement officials were taking no chances in their efforts to avoid history repeating.

Twenty years ago, the city was the scene of one of the worst Fourth of July riots in memory. As recently as last year, officials said, police issued 500 citations and 700 parking tickets and made more than 100 arrests for various offenses including public drunkenness, fighting and fireworks violations.

This year the city hired extra personnel from neighboring jurisdictions to boost its usual non-holiday nighttime force of 12 to 15 officers to about 200 for additional patrols, especially in the area bordered by the ocean and Pacific Coast Highway.

Three years ago, the area -- dubbed "party central" by police -- was declared a "safety enhancement zone" with fines for all offenses tripled on the Fourth of July.

"It's been very effective," Morton said.

"If it follows the usual pattern, we'll have about 100 arrests, but today it's starting out slower than usual."

Elsewhere in the Southland, the mood was jubilant as celebrators -- many with roots in other countries -- observed the nation's birthday.

In the heart of Los Angeles, hundreds gathered early at the El Pueblo Historical Monument for a reenactment of the city's first Independence Day celebration in 1847.

"We came to see what the Fourth of July is all about," said Amado Rodriguez of Alhambra, with his daughters Isela, 8, and Yaneli, 4, in tow.

"It doesn't matter where I was born," said Rodriguez, who moved to the U.S. from Mexico 30 years ago.

"I belong to the country that feeds me ... the country where I grew up. I am so grateful to be here."

Times staff writers Greg Krikorian and Bob Pool contributed to this report.

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