Silver Beach Fourth of July celebrations turn dangerous

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BERRIEN COUNTY, Mich. -- The Fourth of July celebrations got out of hand on Silver Beach in Berrien County, according to witnesses and the sheriff's department.

"It was madness," Rusty Edwards, a witness said.

Edwards attended the beach with his family and captured cell phone video moments after the melee. He said a group of teens and young adults hanging out near the beach's playground got out of control.

"They were openly drinking alcohol. They were openly smoking weed, playing beer pong and the cops would come around and if they saw somebody with beer, they would make em poor it out," Edwards recalled.

Alyssa Hanna, another witness said, "There were some [deputies] that were trying to get the kids to stop, but the kids just weren't listening."

Witnesses said beach goers would just go and get more alcohol. Hanna said she smelled a strong odor of marijuana. As the crowd grew progressively louder, objects started flying through the air.

"Glass bottles just being thrown with fireworks in 'em towards the other side of the crowd. There was a kid about this tall. He got hit in the face with one of the bottles," Grayson Sherrod, another witness said.

Edwards said, "Me and my two sons, literally stood in front of our tent area to kind of keep anything from hitting my wife and my daughters and my baby, my 3 month old baby I had there."

Sherrod said, "We saw a girl started screaming and crying, and I ran over there to see what was wrong with her and she had a towel against her head and I guess a glass bottle had hit her. We had to help. An ambulance had to come get her. She needed stiches."

Justine Turmbo said, "It was crazy. I didn't expect it to be that bad."

Today, the beach was busy again. However, it was calm.

Undersheriff Chuck Heit said, "It's unfortunate that some chose to behave the way they did."

He said his department had no reason to believe beach goers would get out of hand. Heit said five people were arrested for various reasons, including assault and disorderly conduct.

During every Fourth of July at the beach, he said nine officers are on duty. Park's director Brian Bailey said twelve park rangers are normally on duty on the holiday. However, authorities had to call for backup from other departments this time.

"I've done July 4th since 1993, and we have not had an incident like this," Bailey said.

It was a first for him and the county hopes it will be the last. Heit and Bailey said their departments met this morning and came up with ideas on how to prevent something like this from happening again.

"Our main objective is to make it a safe place for visitors," Heit said.

The sheriff's department didn't want to reveal its strategy but said it will be ready next year.

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