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Several arrested at Osceola house parties during coronavirus pandemic

Investigators seek to halt vacation rentals from being used for large gatherings

OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. – Days after Osceola County authorities said “unsavory” people were hosting massive parties at vacation rental homes with the intent of spreading COVID-19, Sheriff Russ Gibson said his office continues to look into how to put a halt to the large gatherings.

“We’re gonna’ work with our county government, the board of county commissioners, and our county manager,” Gibson said. “And maybe we can look at maybe doing something with the county ordinance.”

Gibson said the idea is not to target the owners of those vacation or rental homes.

“Vacation homes are a big part of our tourism industry and we don’t want to hurt that at all, but we can’t afford to sacrifice that for these house parties,” Gibson said. “These parties are attracting a criminal element as well, by no means am I saying they’re being held by gang members.”

Over the weekend, seven people were arrested and several firearms were recovered, including a stolen firearm.

“One person was arrested for a warrant that he had outstanding, it was a violation of probation on a homicide that he had been convicted of,” Gibson said. “The key is to try to find the homeowner, if they’re there at the house, and if they’re not at the house, then try to find the person who’s rented the house.”

Gibson said the house parties are taking place in the west side of Osceola County, with up to 300 people not abiding social distancing guidelines.

He said the party organizers are mostly from other Central Florida counties looking to make money.

“They’re selling tickets. However they do it, you pay an entry fee and I’m not sure how all that works, but I know that’s how it goes,” he said.

Images obtained by News 6 show dozens of partygoers on July 12. Since March, the sheriff’s office has received more than 600 noise complaints.

“I hate to even use the word stupid, but I can’t think of any other word to describe this,” Gibson said. “And it’s also uncaring. These people are living in a moment and have no thought about what tomorrow could bring or what their actions today could cause to somebody that they love. We’re gonna send a clear message that you’re not gonna’ be able to do that here in Osceola County. This isn’t gonna be the party capital of the world.”

Gibson said his teams will continue to be on the lookout and asked residents to call authorities if they see a house party taking place.


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